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WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW:
What is hepatitis C?
Hepatitis C is inflammation of the liver caused by hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection.
How is HCV spread?
HCV is carried in the blood and other body fluids, such as semen or vaginal fluids. The following are some ways HCV is spread:
- A stick from an infected needle, including for illegal drugs and for procedures such as tattooing
- An object with infected blood or body fluids on it touches your wound
- Sharing personal items, such as razors, toothbrushes, or nail clippers with someone who has hepatitis C
- Travel to areas in the world where HCV is common
- Unprotected sex with someone who has hepatitis C, sex with more than one partner, or you are a man who has sex with men
- Rarely, a blood, organ, or tissue transplant from an infected donor, or long-term kidney dialysis
What are the signs and symptoms of hepatitis C?
- Dark urine or pale bowel movements
- 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 your abdomen
How is hepatitis C diagnosed?
Anyone 50 years of age or older should be tested for hepatitis C. IV drug users, and men who have unprotected sex with other men, should be tested every year. Your healthcare provider will ask about your signs and symptoms and any health problems you have. Tell him if you have other infections, such as HIV or hepatitis B. Tell him if you drink alcohol or use any illegal drugs. He may also ask about your sex partners. You may need any of the following tests:
- Blood tests are used to check for HCV antibodies made by your body to fight the infection. The tests can show the type of HCV you have, and how many viruses are present. This will help your healthcare provider make a treatment plan.
- A liver biopsy may show the type of HCV you have and if it is severe.
- Other tests may be needed to check for liver disease and liver function. Tests may include an endoscopy or a CT scan.
How is hepatitis C treated?
- Medicines keep the virus from spreading. Medicines may also prevent or decrease liver swelling and damage. The type of medicine you need will depend on how severe your hepatitis is. It will also depend on if you have liver damage.
- Surgery may be done to remove part of your liver. A liver transplant may be done if your liver stops working. Your diseased liver is removed and replaced with a healthy, donated liver.
How can I prevent the spread of HCV?
- Cover any open cuts or scratches. If blood from your wound gets on a surface, clean the surface with bleach right away. Put on gloves before you clean. Throw away any items with blood or body fluids on them, as directed by your healthcare provider.
- Do not share personal items. These items include toothbrushes, nail clippers, and razors. Do not share needles.
- Tell household members and sex partners that you have HCV. They should be tested for HCV. Do not have sex, including oral and anal sex, until your healthcare provider tells you it is okay. If you have sex, make sure the male partner wears a latex condom.
- Protect your baby. Ask your healthcare provider if it is safe for you to breastfeed. If you are pregnant, ask your healthcare provider for more information on keeping your baby from getting HCV.
- Do not donate blood, body organs, semen, or other tissues. Donations are checked for HCV, but it is best not to donate.
What are the risks of hepatitis C?
Even with treatment, hepatitis C can damage your liver. You may develop cirrhosis, portal hypertension (increased pressure in the vein that goes to your liver), or liver failure. You may need a liver transplant if the damage is severe. Liver disease may lead to increased pressure in your brain.
What can I do to manage hepatitis C?
- Do not drink alcohol or use illegal drugs. Alcohol and drugs can increase liver damage. Ask your healthcare provider for more information if you need help quitting.
- Do not smoke. Nicotine can damage blood vessels and make it more difficult to manage hepatitis C. Do not use e-cigarettes or smokeless tobacco in place of cigarettes or to help you quit. They still contain nicotine. Ask your healthcare provider for information if you currently smoke and need help quitting.
- Eat a variety of healthy foods. Healthy foods include fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy products, beans, and lean meats and fish. Ask if you need to be on a special diet.
- Get more rest. Slowly return to your normal activities when you feel better.
When should I seek immediate care?
- You have severe abdominal pain.
- You are too dizzy to stand up.
- You vomit blood or material that looks like coffee grounds.
- You feel confused or are very sleepy.
- Your bowel movements are red or black, and sticky.
When should I contact my healthcare provider?
- You have a fever.
- You are vomiting and cannot keep food or liquids down.
- Your abdomen or legs have a rash or are swollen.
- You are bruising easily.
- You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.
Care AgreementYou 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.
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