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Learning About Hepatitis C

Digestive system

What is hepatitis C?

Hepatitis C is a disease caused by a virus that infects the liver. In time, it can lead to cirrhosis, liver cancer, or liver failure.

Some people who get the infection have it for a short time (acute) and then get better. But most people who have it go on to develop a long-term (chronic) infection. Many people don't know that they have the virus until they already have some liver damage. This can take many years.

Treatment can usually cure hepatitis C.

What happens when you have hepatitis C?

Some people who get hepatitis C have it for a short time (acute infection) and then get better.

But most people get long-term, or chronic, infection. This can lead to liver damage.

Long-term hepatitis C often causes tiny scars in your liver. If you have a lot of scars, it becomes hard for your liver to work well. Over time, some people have more serious problems such as cirrhosis or liver cancer.

What are the symptoms?

Most people who have hepatitis C don't have symptoms. If there are symptoms, they may include fatigue, pain in the belly and joints, itchy skin, sore muscles, and dark urine. There may also be jaundice. This is a condition in which the skin and the whites of the eyes look yellow.

How can you prevent hepatitis C?

There is no vaccine to prevent the disease. Anyone who has hepatitis C can spread the virus to someone else. You can take steps to make infection less likely.

  • Don't share needles to inject drugs.
  • Make sure all tools and supplies are sterilized if you get a tattoo or body piercing, or have acupuncture.
  • Don't share anything that might have infected blood on it. This may include a toothbrush, razor, or nail clippers.
  • Use latex condoms during sex if you have HIV. Also use latex condoms if you have multiple sex partners or a sexually transmitted infection.

How is hepatitis C treated?

  • If you have acute hepatitis C, your doctor will probably prescribe medicine.
  • If you have chronic hepatitis C, your treatment depends on whether you have liver damage, other health problems you may have, and how much virus is in your body and what type it is.
  • You will need to see your doctor regularly to have blood tests to check your liver.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse advice line (811 in most provinces and territories) if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

Where can you learn more?

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