Ever heard of cases where someone was diagnosed with a severe liver condition out of the blue? A seemingly healthy individual who didn’t drink, didn’t have any serious health condition, but found out that he had a damaged liver!
Scary, right? Well, it could be due to the deadly hepatitis C virus. This dreaded virus affects over 11 million people in India with most not even aware that they are infected.
So what exactly is hepatitis C?
Hepatitis C is a virus that infects the liver and causes inflammation. In the initial months, the liver is infected but not severely damaged. However, as there are hardly any symptoms in this stage, it is left undiagnosed and can turn into a chronic condition. Chronic hepatitis can lead to irreversible liver damage and maybe even liver cancer.
How does one get infected with Hepatitis C?
The good news here is that this virus is not airborne or water borne like several ailments. A person gets infected by hepatitis C when they come into contact with blood infected with this virus. Some ways to contract this virus include:
- Sharing needles or razors with an infected person
- Engaging in unprotected sex with someone who has hepatitis C
- Receiving infected blood in a transfusion
- Through a tattoo or piercing where equipment isn’t cleaned or replaced timely
- At birth, if the mother is infected
Are there any signs or symptoms that I should look out for?
In the initial stages, there are hardly any symptoms. In fact, a healthy immune system can fight off this infection in the first few months, avoiding any serious condition. However, in case the infection sets in, there are certain signs one may observe. These include jaundice (yellowness in skin and eyes), stomach ache, loss of appetite, nausea and fatigue.
How does Hepatitis C affect my liver?
Once infected, the person is in the acute phase. At this stage, if the immune system is able to fight the virus, there is no impact on one’s health. A lot of people don’t even realise they ever had this virus. Any mild symptoms also settle in a few weeks.
In case the immune system isn’t able to fight the infection, the person enters the chronic phase. At this stage also symptoms may or may not occur. In this stage liver inflammation sets in and starts damaging healthy liver cells. This can cause scarring of healthy liver tissue or cirrhosis.
Now this is where the problem starts. When cirrhosis of the liver happens it means all healthy liver cells and tissue are damaged. This prevents the liver from healing on its own. At this point, if left untreated, the liver will continue to deteriorate and may even lead to liver cancer.
Long term chronic hepatitis C can lead to complete liver failure known as the end stage. At this time, the person needs a liver transplant as the liver can no longer function at all.
How do I check if I have Hepatitis C?
A simple blood test known as the Liver Function Test (LFT) is the first step to diagnose any problems with the liver. In case the values here are beyond the normal range, the doctor will decide the future steps required for the individual.
There has to be a way to prevent this infection, right?
Well, unfortunately, there is no specific vaccine against hepatitis C, but there are several preventive steps to avoid this infection. The most important being not to share needles or razors with anyone else. Some personal things should be kept personal people. Also, always ensure your tattoo parlour or heath professional uses a fresh injection.
Quitting smoking and limiting alcohol also help against hepatitis C. As they both negatively impact the liver, reducing or eliminating their consumption help the liver be healthy and fight off infections better. Also, in case one is affected, alcohol and smoking cause faster progression across stages.
Keep in mind that the liver is a crucial organ in the body, and taking care of it means caring for a large part of your overall health. So ensure some basic precautions and live a healthy life - and hopefully, you’ll never have to concern yourself with this virus ever!
A great way to prevent any medical complications for the future is to opt for a preventive health check-up plan. One such plan is the Jubination Comprehensive Health Package which offers a thorough screening of the body's vital parameters.