What is Hepatitis C?

Hepatitis C (HCV) is a disease that affects the liver. A virus causes this disease. The virus is called the hepatitis C virus. It spreads from person to person through contact with blood. This can happen in a few ways, like sharing drug needles, blood transfusion, accidental needle sticks, trauma, or some sexual contacts.


Most people with hepatitis C have no symptoms. When symptoms do occur, they can include:

  • Feeling tired or weak
  • Lack of hunger
  • Nausea
  • Muscle or joint aches
  • Weight loss


In most cases, hepatitis C lasts for many years. That can lead to liver scarring, called “cirrhosis.” Many people with cirrhosis have no symptoms. When symptoms do occur, they can include:


  • Swelling in the belly and legs, and fluid build-up in the lungs
  • Bruising or bleeding easily
  • Trouble taking in a full breath
  • Feeling full in the belly
  • Yellowing of the skin or whites of the eyes, called jaundice
  • Confusion that can come on suddenly
  • Coma


HCV can be contracted if you have contact with the blood of someone who is infected. This can happen if you:

  • Share drug needles or cocaine straws
  • Use infected needles for tattooing, acupuncture, or piercings
  • Share toothbrushes, razors, or other things that could have blood on them
  • Got a blood transfusion in the United States before 1990 (after that time, blood banks started testing donated blood for hepatitis C)
  • Have sex with someone who is infected


A pregnant woman who is infected can also give hepatitis C to her baby.


Some people who have hepatitis C do not remember how they were infected. In the United States, many people with hepatitis C were born between 1945 and 1965. If you were born during these years, your doctor might want to test you for hepatitis C even if you did not do any of the things that put you at risk of infection.


Treatment depends on what type of hepatitis C you have. There are different medicines to treat hepatitis C. Some of them only work on certain forms of the hepatitis C virus. You will have to take a combination of 2 or more medicines based on which virus you have. Treatment usually lasts 3 to 6 months. The medicines now come in pill form and are highly effective and well tolerated.


Some of the medicines used to treat hepatitis C are not appropriate for pregnant women, or for men or women who are not using reliable birth control. Before you start treatment, ask your doctor whether you need to be on reliable birth control for the treatment he or she suggests. Your doctor can help you decide if these medicines are right for you.


Is there If you want to get pregnant, talk to your doctor or nurse first. About 1 in 20 women who have hepatitis C pass the virus on to the baby during pregnancy.

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