Hep C – Patient Education Overview
Hepatitis C, also known as Hep C, is a viral infection that causes the liver to become inflamed (swollen).
The CDC estimates that 3.2 million Americans are infected with the hep C virus, making this one of the most common causes of chronic liver disease in the United States. Most people infected with hepatitis C develop chronic hepatitis. They do not notice any symptoms until they have had the disease for many years, which makes early patient education and awareness extremely important. Symptoms may include:
- Abdominal pain on the upper right side
- Abdominal swelling
- Bleeding from the esophagus or stomach
- Dark urine
- Jaundice (yellowish skin color)
- Loss of appetite, nausea or vomiting
- Pale or gray-colored bowel movements
After many years of being infected with hep C, the liver may become permanently scarred (a condition called cirrhosis) and not function properly. This condition can lead to liver failure.
Doctors Who Treat Hepatitis C – Patient Education
As your hep C is diagnosed, treated and managed, you may encounter the following team of doctors and specialists.
- Internist or family physician - Doctors who provide general medical care for adults. Adults with hepatitis viral infection may be diagnosed and treated by an internist or family physician.
- Pediatrician - A doctor who specializes in the medical care of children. Children with hepatitis infection may be diagnosed and treated by a pediatrician or family physician.
- Hepatologist - A doctor who specializes in diseases that affect the liver. Hepatologists diagnose, treat, and manage hepatitis infection, particularly the more complicated or unusual cases.
- Gastroenterologist - A doctor who specializes in illnesses of the digestive organs (including the liver) and digestive processes of the body. Gastroenterologists diagnose, treat, and manage hepatitis infection, particularly the more complicated or unusual cases.
- Infectious disease physician - A doctor who specializes in illnesses caused by infection, such as viruses or bacteria. An infectious disease physician may be involved in the care of patients with viral forms of hepatitis, such as hep C.
How to Prepare for Your Hep C Doctor Visit
Having made your appointment with a healthcare provider, there are certain actions you can take to maximize the benefit of your doctor visit for hep C :
- Write down a list of all your symptoms, including any that may seem unrelated to hepatitis, when they started, and when they tend to occur.
- Make a list of all medications, vitamins and supplements that you’re taking. Include the dosage you are taking of each.
- Write down key personal information, including prior illnesses; contact with people who have hepatitis C; regular contact with blood, blood products, or bodily fluids; blood transfusions; organ transplants; kidney dialysis; injectable drug use; tattoos; and acupuncture treatments.
- Be prepared to answer detailed questions about your sexual history and any sexually transmitted diseases.
- Be prepared to take an active role in managing your disease as patient education is the key. Hep C is a chronic disease that requires ongoing medical care and active participation by patients.
Questions to Ask Your Doctor About Hep C
From your initial diagnosis throughout your treatment and care, you will have questions about your condition. Presented in thie patient education guide is a list of questions to discuss with your doctor so you can make informed decisions about your Hep C condition and your care.
Question About My Diagnosis
- What causes hepatitis C infection?
- How is hepatitis C infection diagnosed?
- Does having hepatitis C put me at risk for other health problems?
- How did I become infected with hepatitis C?
- Do I need to tell former sex partners that I have hep C?
Questions About My Treatment
- What types of medication are used to treat hepatitis C? Are there side effects?
- Will I have to take medication every day even when I feel fine?
- Will I have to take medication for the rest of my life?
- Will insurance pay for all my medications and doctor visits?
- Will other medications I take interact with my hepatitis C medications?
- Will I need a liver transplant?
Questions About My Lifestyle & Family
- Does my family need to take precautions to avoid getting hepatitis C infection from me?
- Is it safe for me to have children? Will my children have hepatitis C?
- Do I need to inform friends, family, or coworkers about my hepatitis C infection?
- Do I need to change my diet, exercise habits, or daily activities because of my disease?
- Is there a support group for people with hep C?
Common Tests or Labs to Diagnose Hepatitis C
Several tests are used to make a proper diagnosis and monitor hepatitis C. Listed below are the most common tests and labs ordered for hepatitis C, why you need them, and what they can tell you about your condition.
|Test||Why Test?||What Happens?||Normal Result|
|Hepatitis C Antibody Test||To look for antibodies to the hepatitis C virus in the blood||Blood is drawn with a syringe, typically from the arm.||A normal result means no hepatitis C antibodies were found in the blood. An abnormal result means hepatitis C antibodies were found in the blood, which means the person has been infected at some time, but may not be infected at present.|
|Hepatitis C Viral Load Test||To detect hepatitis C virus in the blood and measure the amount of virus particles||Blood is drawn with a syringe, typically from the arm.||This test shows whether hepatitis C virus is currently in the blood and measures the amount of the virus present. It is also used to compare viral levels before and after treatment has begun.|
|Hepatitis C Genotype
|To determine which of the six genotypes of hepatitis C virus is in the blood, because some types require longer treatment than others||Blood is drawn with a syringe, typically from the arm.||The test results will show which genotype of hepatitis C is present in the blood.|
|Liver Function Tests||To identify and monitor liver damage caused by hepatitis C||Blood is drawn with a syringe, typically from the arm.||Multiple tests are conducted on the blood sample to measure several substances produced by the liver or related to liver function. Abnormal levels of these substances indicate liver damage.|
|Liver Biopsy||To see whether liver damage has occurred and, if so, the level or type of damage||Pain medication is injected at the site where the biopsy needle will be inserted. A sedative may also be provided. The biopsy needle is inserted through the skin and into the liver to remove a small piece of tissue for testing.||An abnormal result means there is liver damage. The biopsy results help the doctor assess whether the damage was caused by the hepatitis C virus and assess the stage (early or advanced) of liver disease.|
Common Medications and Treatments for Hepatitis C
Hepatitis C treatment is aimed at removing the virus from the blood, thereby reducing the risk of liver damage and liver disease. The most common medication regimen is a combination of peginterferon weekly injections and ribavirin daily pills. This treatment lasts from 24 to 48 weeks.
A liver transplant may be performed if hepatitis C infection causes liver failure. Medications are typically continued after the transplant because hepatitis C infection often recurs.
In addition, people with hepatitis C must take the following steps to manage their disease:
- Avoid substances that are toxic to the liver, including alcohol. Even moderate amounts of alcohol speed up the disease progression, and alcohol reduces the effectiveness of the medications.
- Get vaccinated against hepatitis A and B.
- Eat a healthy diet and exercise regularly to maintain overall good health.
- Talk to their doctors before taking any vitamins, herbal or nutritional supplements, alternative therapies, or new over-the-counter medications.
- Do not replace proven conventional treatments for hepatitis C with complementary or alternative medicine treatments that are unproven. Although some herbal supplements are marketed for treatment of hepatitis C, at present, these have not been proven effective for treating hepatitis C or its complications. Research in this area is ongoing.