If you think you may have Hepatitis C, it is critical that you get to a doctor early. When caught in its initial stages, the disease can have relatively minor effects on the body and can be effectively treated. However, there is a lot of misinformation about Hepatitis C out there, so you will want to prepare a plan for coping with the realities of the disease.
Go to the doctor or a clinic. You need to see an accredited medical practitioner for this. You can see your own doctor or seek out some information regarding the medical/health centers in your district if you don’t wish your “family” doctor to be aware of your testing or results. Hepatitis C testing is done on blood and must be specifically tested for; it will not appear during a non-specific screen of your blood, such as a hemoglobin count or blood sugar test.
Get other tests. A positive diagnosis of Hepatitis C is not the end of testing. You will also be tested for genotype and liver function. Other tests may also be performed to determine how much of HVC virus is in your blood.
- There are six different types of hepatitis C and some respond differently to treatments, so determining the genotype may help your doctor to decide on the best course of treatment.
- After your blood test, you may also need to have a liver biopsy to determine the extent of the damage to your liver.
Return for a follow-up. Your medical identity is private and there are strict laws which doctors and medical staff must abide by concerning your confidentiality, which is why results must be passed on to you in person, rather than over the phone. So make sure you schedule and attend a follow-up appointment to get the results and discuss them with your doctor.
Ask questions. Take this opportunity to ask as many questions about your condition as you can. Find out what you need to do regarding your options and alternatives for treatment or management of your condition and support organizations. You will usually find a group in your area or online that supports sufferers of your condition and their friends and families. Tap into the resources if you feel that they will help. You may wish to ask:
- How much of the HVC virus is in my blood?
- Do I have any other viruses, like Hepatitis B, affecting my liver?
- What are my treatment options? What are the benefits and drawbacks of each option?
- Do I need treatment or will the virus go away on its own?
- Can I spread the HVC virus? What should I do to avoid this?
- Do I need to come back for follow-up visits? If so how often?
- Arm yourself with information about your condition, but avoid becoming obsessive or reading everything written by everyone- especially on the internet. Facts and figures and forums will not help you cure or manage your condition, but good information just might.
Maintain contact with your chosen heath professional. Find a doctor who you feel comfortable talking to about your condition. It will make a huge difference in the way you see your own role in managing your condition or seeking a cure. If you do not feel comfortable with your current doctor, then start looking for a new one.
Coping with Hepatitis C
1Seek treatment early. It is possible to treat and effectively clear your blood of Hepatitis C with proper medical care and monitoring. There are medications available and yo will also need to be vaccinated against Hepatitis A and B. In most patients, Hepatitis C does not present in physical symptoms until the disease has progressed to a later phase. That is why it is critical to catch this disease in its early stages.The earliest manifestations of acute Hepatitis C usually occur around one to three months after infection, but even these symptoms don’t occur in all patients. Things to look for include:
- Chronic or excessive fatigue
- Dwindling appetite and frequent nausea
- Stomach pains
- Yellow discoloration of the eyes and skin
- Fever and joint pain
- Dark or cloudy urine
2Spot advanced or chronic Hepatitis C. The advanced, or “chronic”, symptoms of Hepatitis C often don’t present until years after the initial infection. However, these symptoms are quite serious and are related to damage the disease is doing to your liver. The advanced symptoms to look for are:
- Easy bruising or bleeding
- The accumulation of fluid in your abdomen
- Itchy skin or swelling in the legs
- Excessive weight loss, drowsiness and slurred speech
- The appearance of “spider-like” blood vessels on your skin
- If the disease is left untreated for a long time, it can lead to scarring of the liver, decreased liver function, and, ultimately, liver failure. This usually doesn’t occur until decades after the initial infection.
3Treat symptoms individually. The symptoms you will deal with are not set in stone. Different people experience the symptoms of Hepatitis C differently and at different times. Therefore, you will want to treat your symptoms individually as they occur and in consultation with your doctor.
- First and foremost, Hepatitis C only presents acute symptoms in 25% of all infections. Therefore, it is statistically likely that whatever symptoms you may be experiencing are actually the result of another, unrelated medical problem. Be sure to consult your doctor regarding any and all symptoms that you think may be related to Hepatitis C, because they may not be in reality.
- When fighting physical fatigue, your doctor may be able to recommend supplements that give you energy and revitalize you. Also you need to stay positive and try to get as much exercise as you can. A positive mental attitude, even when you’re body is feeling run down, can really help your energy levels. Also, exercise is a great way to naturally boost your energy levels. So work through the fatigue and you may begin to feel better.
- In cases where you are feeling mentally run down, often described by Hep-C sufferers as a “brain fog”, you should try doing puzzles, crosswords, or mind exercises on a daily basis.
- Excessive nausea and lack of appetite are both treatable symptoms. Try eating small portions more frequently throughout the day. Also, you can loading more nutrients and vitamins into more easily digestible meals, like casseroles or soups. Try adding beans and eggs, both high in protein, to your next dish. Also, try eating simple foods with spreads on them. If you are having pancakes, spread some butter or peanut butter on them and so on. These activities may help you gain back weight and keeping a consistent eating schedule can help reduce nausea. If you find that problems persist, ask your doctor to suggest a dietary expert.
- Joint pain and muscle aches can be managed with simple measures, like taking a warm bath, getting a massage or taking a OTC painkiller like aspirin or ibuprofen.
- Any chronic symptoms of Hepatitis C, such as jaundice, liver damage or liver failure, will need to be treated with prescription medication or actions (like surgery) that must be carried out by a medical professional.
4Control the spread. Contrary to popular belief, sexual intercourse is not the primary cause of Hepatitis C infection. Hepatitis C is transmitted through direct contact with infected blood. Taking some simple precautions can help you not put others at risk of contracting the disease. Some of these precautions are:
- Don’t share personal hygiene products, like razors or tweezers.
- Don’t get a tattoo or piercing.
- Don’t use intravenous drugs. You probably shouldn’t do this anyways, but if you do use intravenous drugs, never share a needle.
- Never tend to another person’s wound without taking protective precautions (i.e.wear gloves and make sure your hands are free of cuts)
- Keep in mind that you can still kiss, hug, hold hands, share silverware, and breast feed without worrying about passing on the disease.
5Avoid alcohol. Drinking alcohol will accelerate the progress of your hepatitis C, so do not drink alcohol at all. This may be difficult, especially if you are dependent on alcohol or if drinking is a big part of you social life, but it is necessary to prevent further liver damage.
- If you cannot stop drinking on your own, talk to your doctor. You may need to go through a treatment program to stop drinking.
- Many medications and other drugs, including marijuana, can damage your liver as well. Do not try to replace alcohol with drugs, prescription or otherwise.
6Eat well and maintain a healthy weight. Being overweight and consuming fatty and/or greasy foods puts more strain on your liver. Stick to a low fat diet and do your best to lose weight if you are overweight or maintain a healthy weight.
- A healthy immune system is critical to fighting off Hepatitis C, so eat well, sleep well and exercise. The stronger your immune system is, the better chance you have of kicking Hepatitis C to the curb.
Alleviating the Stigma
1Know that you are not the disease. Always remember, your illness, disease, or medical condition is not your identity. It is something you have, not something you are. Never let the disease define you and keep a positive mental outlook.
2Educate others. As stated above, most people operate under the impression that Hepatitis C is a sexually transmitted disease or directly related to intravenous drug use. While having a STD or a drug problem really shouldn’t cause shame or embarrassment, some segments of our society still stigmatize people with STDs and drug problems. When you encounter people who are misinformed or uneducated about Hepatitis C, you may want to take some time to explain the realities of the disease and its transmission to them.
3Use discretion. You may have to eliminate some regular activities or take some extra precautions in your work or personal life to avoid worsening your condition or spreading the disease. You don’t need to make an announcement about your medical condition every time this happens. Also, your medical history and condition are your business and no one else’s, so don’t feel forced to disclose anything to anyone.
- Remember, choosing not to tell others about your condition should not make you feel ashamed or guilty of the condition itself.
- You need to tell any medical professionals you are seeing about your condition, especially dentists, because it is spread by blood and they need to take proper precautions.
- While sexual intercourse is not the primary cause of Hepatitis C infection, it is probably wise to disclose your condition to sexual partners because the disease can potentially spread through unprotected sex. This will allow you and your partner to take necessary precautions.
4Network. There are local, national and international support groups for people who are coping with Hepatitis C. Interacting with these support groups can rejuvenate your outlook on your condition, teach you useful coping mechanisms, and can provide you with a safe space to discuss Hepatitis C with people who can commiserate.
- Many of these support groups are found online. Try looking at hepatitisccentral.com or hvcsupport.com for some examples