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Hepatitis C: Introduction
Almost one in every 70 persons in the US, that is 1.45% of the American population is estimated to be suffering from Hep C. The same is true with India and many other countries. Hepatitis means an inflammation of the liver. When the inflammation of the liver is due to a specific RNA virus which leads to chronic inflammation, it is called Hepatitis C. There are several virus names as A, B, C, D, E, etc. which are known to affect the liver, producing Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C, etc. In fact, this particular virus has a capacity to induce not only inflammation but scarring of the liver, which is called as cirrhosis of the liver. The virus tends to multiply rapidly hence not allowing to develop natural antibodies in adequate quantity. This virus is a slow and silent destroyer of liver cell. It may so happen that one may not realize the infection for years together.
Symptoms of Hepatitis C
The HCV infection takes years to produce symptoms in those infected with this virus. About 35% of the infected people may produce symptoms while the rest may not produce symptoms at all. Hepatitis C does not have prominent symptoms in the early stage. The infected individual may experience vague symptoms such as abdominal pain, impaired digestion, loss of appetite, lassitude, weakness, itching, etc. However, these symptoms are so common that it is hard to point towards the diagnosis of Hepatitis C. The severity of the symptoms is not directly proportional to the intensity of liver dysfunction, however.
Patients in the advanced stage may experience more severe symptoms such as yellow sclera, sometimes paleness (whiteness) of eyes, loss of appetite, depression, bleeding from the rectum, bloody vomiting, exhaustion and weight loss. Advanced stage symptoms of Hepatitis C are those due to chronic inflammation of the liver (hepatitis), cirrhosis (scarring of tissues) of liver and/or liver failure.
The patients with acute Hepatitis C present with lethargic feeling, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, body pain, and exhaustion. Objectively, one may observe yellowness of sclera (icterus or jaundice as it is called).
Hepatitis C: Investigations and Diagnosis
The clinical symptoms alone cannot determine the diagnosis of Hepatitis C. The diagnostic test for Hepatitis C involves a study of certain Liver enzymes and Hepatitis C specific antibodies in the blood. Anti Hepatitis C (Anti HCV) virus antibodies can be detected in the blood after 3 to 6 weeks. It may be noted that Anti HCV may not be detected adequately during the acute phase of Hepatitis C. ELISA test for HCV antibody is an important diagnostic test to detect the HCV antibodies, which indicates exposure to the infection.
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