Hepatitis C is a viral disease that leads to swelling (inflammation) of the liver.
Non-A or non-B hepatitis
Hepatitis C infection is caused by the hepatitis C virus (HCV). People who may be at risk for hepatitis C are those who:
Hepatitis C has an acute and chronic form. Most people who are infected with the virus develop chronic hepatitis C.
Many people who are infected with hepatitis C do not have symptoms.
If the infection has been present for many years, the liver may be permanently scarred, a condition called cirrhosis. In many cases, there may be no symptoms of the disease until cirrhosis has developed.
The following symptoms could occur with hepatitis C infection:
The following tests are done to help diagnose hepatitis C:
The following tests are done to identify and monitor liver damage from hepatitis C:
Liver biopsy can show how much damage has been done to the liver.
There is no cure for hepatitis C, but medications in some cases can suppress the virus for a long period of time.
Some patients with hepatitis C benefit from treatment with medications. The most common medications are a combination of interferon alpha and ribavirin, an antiviral medication.
These medications have a number of side effects, including:
See: Cirrhosis for information about treating more severe liver damage caused by hepatitis C.
Patients who develop cirrhosis or liver cancer may be candidates for a liver transplant.
People with hepatitis C should also:
You can often ease the stress of illness by joining a support group of people who share common experiences and problems. See liver disease - resources.
Most people with hepatitis C infection have the chronic form.
In people who are treated with medications, a "sustained response" means that the patient is free from the hepatitis C virus 6 months after stopping treatment. This does not mean that the patient is cured, but that the levels of active hepatitis C virus in the body are very low and are probably not causing more, or as much damage.
Patients with genotypes 2 or 3 are three times more likely to respond to treatment than patients with genotype 1.
Hepatitis C is one of the most common causes of chronic liver disease in the United States today. People with this condition may have:
Hepatitis C usually comes back after a liver transplant, which can lead to cirrhosis of the new liver.
Call your provider if:
Avoid contact with blood or blood products whenever possible. Health care workers should follow precautions when handling blood and bodily fluids.
Do not inject illicit drugs, and especially do not share needles with anyone. Be careful when getting tattoos and body piercings.
Sexual transmission is low among stable, monogamous couples. A partner should be screened for hepatitis C. If the partner is negative, the current recommendations are to make no changes in sexual practices.
People who have sex outside of a monogamous relationship should practice safer sex behaviors to avoid hepatitis C as well as sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV and hepatitis B.
Currently there is no vaccine for hepatitis C.
Ghany MG, Strader DB, Thomas DL, Seeff LB. American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases. Diagnosis, management, and treatment of hepatitis C: an update. Hepatology. 2009;49:1335-1374.
Jou JH, Muir AJ. In the clinic. Hepatitis C. Ann Intern Med. 2008;148:ITC6-1-ITC6-16.