Viral Hepatitis C

What is hepatitis C?

Hepatitis C is an inflammation of the liver. It is caused by an infection of the hepatitis C virus (HCV).


How is hepatitis C spread?

HCV is carried in the blood and other body fluids, such as semen or vaginal fluids. HCV may be spread by any of the following:

  • You are stuck with an infected needle. This includes accidental needle sticks, use of illegal drugs, or infected needles used during procedures such as tattooing.

  • You have a wound or cut, you touch an object with infected blood or body fluids on it, and then you touch your wound.

  • You share personal items, such as razors, toothbrushes, or nail clippers with someone who has hepatitis C.

  • You have sexual contact with someone who has hepatitis C.

  • You received a blood transfusion (before July of 1992) or organ transplant (before 1987).

  • You receive long-term kidney dialysis.

What are the signs and symptoms of hepatitis C?

The most common symptom of hepatitis C is fatigue. You may also have one or more of the following:

  • Dark-colored urine or light-colored stools

  • Fever

  • Jaundice (yellow skin or eyes) and itchy skin

  • Joint pain, body aches, or weakness

  • Loss of appetite, nausea, or vomiting

  • Pain in the upper right side of the abdomen

How is hepatitis C diagnosed?

You may have one or more of the following tests:

  • Enzyme immunoassay test (EIA) : This blood test checks for hepatitis C antibodies. Antibodies are proteins made by the immune system that attack viruses or bacteria.

  • Genotyping: This is a blood test that tests the genotype of the HCV that you have. Genotype is the genetic make-up of the virus. Caregivers can decide how long you need treatment with this information.

  • Hepatitis C profile serological test: This test checks the activity and number of viruses present in your blood.

  • Blood tests: These check the enzymes (chemicals) and other substances made in the liver. Test results tell caregivers how your liver is working.

  • Liver biopsy: A liver biopsy is when a small piece of your liver is removed and sent to a lab for tests. Caregivers will clean your skin, and you may be given medicine to numb (lose feeling) in the area. A needle is put through the wall of your abdomen or between your ribs. The needle is put into the liver and a small piece is taken out. A bandage will be placed over the area.

How is hepatitis C treated?

You may have one or more of the following:

  • Antiviral medicines: These medicines help keep the virus from spreading. This may prevent or decrease swelling and damage to the liver.

  • Surgery: A liver transplant may be done if your liver stops working. Your diseased liver is removed and replaced with a healthy, donated liver. You may also have a part of your liver removed.

How can I prevent the spread of hepatitis C?

  • Cover any open cuts or scratches: If blood from a wound gets on a surface, clean the surface with bleach right away. Make sure you throw away any items with blood or body fluids on them, as directed by your caregiver.

  • Do not share personal items: These items include toothbrushes, nail clipper, and razors. Do not share needles.

  • Tell household and sexual partners that you have HCV: They should be tested for HCV. Do not have sex, including oral and anal sex, until your caregiver tells you it is okay. If you have sex, make sure the male partner wears a latex condom.

  • Protect your baby: Mothers infected with HCV should stop breastfeeding if their nipples are cracked or bleeding.

  • Do not donate blood, body organs, semen, or other tissues.

What are the risks of hepatitis C?

  • Treatment for hepatitis C may damage your kidneys and cause side effects, such as flu-like symptoms, depression, and headaches. The earlier hepatitis C is found and treated, the better the chances of preventing future liver problems.

  • If hepatitis C is not treated, your liver may become too damaged and stop working. You may get cirrhosis or liver cancer.

When should I contact my caregiver?

Contact your caregiver if:

  • You have a fever.

  • You are vomiting and cannot keep food or liquids down.

  • You have a rash or swelling of your abdomen or legs.

  • You are bruising easily.

  • You have severe abdominal pain.

  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

When should I seek immediate care?

Seek care immediately or call 911 if:

  • You are too dizzy to stand up.

  • You feel confused or are very sleepy.

  • Your stools are red or black and sticky.

  • Your symptoms are getting worse.

  • You vomit blood or material that looks like coffee grounds.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

© 2013 Truven Health Analytics Inc. Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or Truven Health Analytics.

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