Hepatitis C is a viral infection that targets the liver, causing inflammation and potentially damaging the organ. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are over 2 million Americans living with the disease. For some people, it’s a short-term disease, but for others, it’s a chronic medical condition.
With early detection and proper medical treatment, individuals can prevent an acute chronic infection from becoming a chronic issue. Let’s take a look at the latest guidelines for treatment and where you can go in Austin for top-tier hepatitis C treatment.
How is Hepatitis C Contracted?
Hepatitis C is contracted when one comes into contact with the blood of someone who is infected with the hepatitis C virus. The following are some of the most common ways that hepatitis C is contracted:
- Sharing needles or syringes
- Getting a tattoo or body piercing from a non-professional or unlicensed practitioner
- Gotten a blood transfusion before 1992, or received blood products before 1987
- Born to a mother with hepatitis C
- Having unprotected sex with someone with the infection
A lot of people who become infected with hepatitis C do not clear up the virus, hence, it becomes a chronic liver condition.
What Are the Symptoms of Hepatitis C?
Acute hepatitis C is often asymptomatic in the beginning. Symptoms may appear 2-12 weeks after exposure. Symptoms can include yellowing of skin/eyes, loss of appetite, upset stomach, vomiting, stomach pain, fever, dark urine, light-colored stool, joint pain, and fatigue.
Most people with chronic hepatitis C have no symptoms or mild general symptoms like fatigue and depression. It often goes unnoticed until a screening or an abnormal blood test during a routine check-up.
Chronic hepatitis C can progress to cirrhosis and liver cancer. Due to the serious life-threatening risks associated with hepatitis C, proper management of the condition is critical.
Hepatitis C Treatment Guidelines
Acute hepatitis C refers to a recent infection with the hepatitis C virus. In many cases, the immune system can clear the virus without medical intervention. Patients are usually prescribed antiviral medication to prevent the infection from progressing to chronic hepatitis C. Treatment for acute hepatitis C is usually shorter in duration compared to chronic hepatitis C.
Chronic hepatitis C occurs when the infection persists in the body for more than six months. The primary goal in treating chronic hepatitis C is to prevent liver-related deaths. The standard of care for chronic hepatitis involves the use of pegylated interferons along with ribavirin.
Here is a general outline of a comprehensive treatment plan for hepatitis C:
- Initial assessment: A thorough evaluation of the patient’s medical history, risk factors, and severity of liver disease.
- Laboratory testing: Blood tests to determine the genotype and viral load of the hepatitis C, as well as liver function tests.
- Liver biopsy or non-invasive alternatives: Assessing the extent of liver damage and staging the disease.
- Direct-acting antiviral (DAA) therapy: A prescription of appropriate antiviral medications targeting the specific genotype of hepatitis C. Examples of medications prescribed are Elbasvir/Grazoprevir (Zepatier) and Sofosbuvir/Velpatasvir (Epclusa).
- Treatment duration: Determined based on the genotype, severity of liver disease, and individual response to therapy.
- Monitoring: Regular follow-up visits to assess treatment efficacy and potential side effects.
- Alcohol abstinence: Complete avoidance of alcohol consumption, as it can accelerate liver damage.
- Healthy diet: Encouraging a well-balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins.
- Weight management: Achieving and maintaining a healthy body weight to reduce strain on the liver.
- Avoidance of hepatotoxic substances: Minimizing exposure to medications, chemicals, and substances that can harm the liver.
- Safe sexual practices: Practicing safe sex and using barrier methods to prevent transmission to others.
Administering vaccines – hepatitis A and hepatitis B – to protect against other strains of viral hepatitis and prevent superinfection.
- Patient education and counseling: Providing information about the disease, treatments, and potential side effects.
- Emotional support: Addressing psychological concerns, anxiety, and depression related to the diagnosis and treatment process.
- Support groups: Offering access to support groups or counseling services for individuals to connect with others facing similar challenges.
Patients with chronic hepatitis C should continue with ongoing liver function tests, which are regular blood tests to monitor liver enzymes, viral load, and assess liver health. Patients with chronic hepatitis C may end up needing a liver transplant down the road.
Hepatitis C Treatment in Austin, TX
The gastroenterology team at Austin Gastroenterology is highly experienced in the diagnosis and treatment of hepatitis C. The latest developments in fast-acting antiviral medication used to treat hepatitis can attack or destroy the virus. Our gastroenterology specialists also provide comprehensive support and care to maintain liver health.
Schedule a consultation to find out your options for treatment. Call our office located near you or use our online appointment request form. We look forward to being your partner in tackling hepatitis C.