Love Your Liver: Living with Hepatitis C

What is Hepatitis C?

Hepatitis is a liver disease caused by the hepatitis C virus that attacks the liver. Many people who become infected with hepatitis C never feel sick and recover completely.

Others get a brief, acute illness with fatigue and loss of appetite and their skin and eyes turn yellow (a condition called “jaundice”). If your body is not able to fight off the virus, you may develop chronic hepatitis which can lead to cirrhosis (liver scarring), liver failure and even liver cancer later in life. Like chronic hepatitis B, chronic hepatitis C is a “silent” disease because often no symptoms appear until your liver is severely damaged. Test results will take a few days to a few weeks to come back.

How do I get hepatitis C?

Hepatitis C is common worldwide.  An estimated 170 million individuals worldwide including an estimated 250,000 in Canada are infected. Hepatitis C is spread through blood-to-blood contact, which means that to contract hepatitis C, blood infected with the hepatitis C virus must get into your blood stream

You may risk exposure to hepatitis C by using injection drugs (even once), getting tattoos, piercings, pedicures, manicures or medical procedures with improperly sterilized equipment, sharing personal hygiene items with an infected person (e.g. razors, toothbrushes, nail clippers) or having had a blood transfusion or received blood products prior to July 1990.

Why get tested for hepatitis C?

  • An estimated 250 thousand Canadians have Hepatitis C, but many don’t know it.
  • Approximately 75% of people who are infected develop chronic infection and about 25% will clear their infection on their own.
  • People with Hepatitis C often have no symptoms. Many infected people live for up to 20 or 30 years without feeling sick. When or if symptoms appear during the late stage of infection, they often reflect serious damage to the liver.
  • Hepatitis C is a leading cause of cirrhosis, liver cancer and liver transplants.

New treatments can cure Hepatitis C and prevent further liver damage and improve health outcomes.

Who should get tested for hepatitis C?

To determine whether or not you have hepatitis C, you will need to have blood tests. You should consider getting tested if:

  • you were born between 1945 and 1975
  • you are worried about having done something that could have put you at risk – even once or a long time ago (see sections entitled ‘How do I get hepatitis C?’ and ‘Who is most at risk’)
  • you have signs or symptoms of having hepatitis C, such as nausea, fatigue, reduced appetite, jaundice, dark urine or abdominal pain
  • you have resided in countries where hepatitis C is common (e.g., Egypt, southern Italy, India, Pakistan, Vietnam) and have been exposed to blood products, medical procedures, or vaccinations.

Can hepatitis C be treated?

Yes, since 2010 enormous progress has been made in treatment of chronic hepatitis C. New therapies called direct acting antivirals (DAAs) are pills that act on the virus itself to eradicate it from the body, unlike older medicines like interferon injections which work by stimulating an immune response. These new treatments are very effective and can achieve cure rates of over 90%. In most situations now, there is no need for interferon, which was responsible for many of the side effects previously associated with HCV treatment. The new treatment combinations require shorter treatment durations (between 8 to 24 weeks), have reduced side effects and appear to be effective at all stages of the disease.

Life after hepatitis C can be a challenge. One may still experience fatigue, low energy and depression. Following a few simple steps can get you back in the driver’s seat with your life.

To shift from surviving to thriving, both a commitment and consistency are required to live a life of vitality. You also want a vision for your life after hep C with a new mindset. A new mindset will allow you to view your world differently with a fresh pair of eyes.

Routines with proper nutrition, daily movement, stretching, a breathing practice, and relaxation poses can all contribute powerfully to a brand new life after hepatitis C.


Jordan J. Feld MD MPH, liver specialist, University of Toronto

Marsha Lecour, BA BEd MEd, author/speaker

Dr Feld and Marsha Lecour will host a Thursday Evening Lecture on June 9th, 2016 7pm

Resources

  1. www.liver.ca
  2. “The Book of Hepatitis C: 7 Simple Steps to Shift from Surviving to Thriving After Hepatitis C” (Marsha Lecour)
  3. University Health Network, Toronto General Hospital, Francis Family Liver Clinic