May is Hepatitis Awareness Month, so talk to our women’s health care providers about preventing and treating hepatitis C. Hepatitis C is a common form of hepatitis and there is currently no vaccine to prevent it. In this article, we’ll discuss what hepatitis C is and what women should know about this common but serious infection.
One of the best ways to observe Hepatitis Awareness Month is to talk to our doctors about this disease. Ask our women’s health care professionals whether you should get tested for hepatitis C and how to prevent it. An estimated 40% of people with hepatitis C don’t know they have it and don’t know they should get tested. Knowing more about hepatitis can help you avoid infection, notice the signs of infection, and also seek early treatment if you think you may be infected. Make an appointment at one of our clinics and let’s talk about hepatitis and how to protect yourself.
Hepatitis C, sometimes called hep C for short, is a type of viral infection from the hepatitis C virus. It primarily affects the liver, which is responsible for many things in your body, including removing toxins from the blood and maintaining healthy blood sugar levels. The problem with hepatitis C is that it can cause damage to the liver over time.
Hepatitis C infections can be acute or chronic. An acute infection is short-term and your body’s immune system may be able to fight it off. However, more than half of people experience a chronic infection after being exposed to hepatitis C virus. Chronic hepatitis C is a long-term infection that can lead to many serious complications including scarring on the liver (cirrhosis), liver failure, and liver cancer. Today, there are many treatments available that, if used early, can help reduce these risks to your liver.
Hepatitis C often causes no symptoms. For some, symptoms only appear decades after infection due to serious liver damage. However, there are some symptoms you can keep an eye out for that may indicate a hepatitis C infection. Symptoms of hepatitis C infection include:
If you notice these symptoms, talk to our women’s health care providers to identify underlying causes. It may help your doctor detect hepatitis C for early treatment.
How do you get hepatitis C? Hepatitis C typically spreads through infected blood. One of the most common reasons for hep C transmission is sharing needles from illicit drug use. However, there are many other ways you might contract hepatitis C. For instance, getting tattoos or piercings using unsanitary needles, working in healthcare where you may be exposed to infected blood, or even sharing personal care items that may be contaminated with small amounts of blood, like razors or nail clippers.
Hepatitis C can also spread through sex, especially if there may be blood present, like if you’re having sex during your period or if you experience tearing that causes light bleeding. This can create the blood-to-blood contact that can lead to a hepatitis C infection.
Less commonly, women can also spread hepatitis C to their babies during pregnancy and birth. Some estimate that the risk is about 6% per pregnancy for mothers with hep C. The good news is that it is typically treatable in babies when caught early.
Anyone can contract hepatitis C. However, there are some people who are more at risk for hep C than others. For instance, about 75% of people with chronic hepatitis C were born between 1945 and 1965, with Baby Boomers having five times the risk of people born in other generations.
Here are some other factors that may increase your risk for hepatitis C:
If you have certain risk factors, our women’s health care providers may recommend testing for hepatitis C at least once, if not regularly. Our doctors can discuss your individual health circumstances with you to help you determine which screenings are right for you.
There are many things to know about hepatitis C. One of the best resources for information about hep C is your women’s health care provider at HerKare. However, we have some general information that we think is important for you to know for Hepatitis Awareness Month:
One thing many people don’t realize about hepatitis C is that menopause can affect the infection. Estrogen may play a role in reducing how quickly the virus replicates, which can help protect you from liver damage and other issues associated with a chronic hep C infection. However, when estrogen levels drop during menopause, this can lead to a quick worsening of your condition. Hepatitis C typically progresses slower in pre-menopausal women than men, but once you reach menopause, you can see a rapid progression in symptoms and liver damage. So, consider scheduling a hep C test before you reach menopause. This way, you can seek treatment before your natural estrogen levels decrease.
If you haven’t reached menopause yet, you might use hormonal birth control to prevent unwanted pregnancy. However, if you have hepatitis C, it may make your birth control less effective and increase the risk for failure. This is because the liver is responsible for breaking down hormonal birth control so your body can use it to prevent unwanted pregnancy. If you think you have hepatitis C, talk to our women’s health care providers about your birth control options.
The good news is that hepatitis C is treatable. Treatment may look different for everyone, but it typically includes antiviral medications for 8 to 12 weeks. These medications can help stop the virus from multiplying and spreading to other cells in your liver. For many patients, these medications can actually make it so the virus isn’t detectable in their blood. Patients that reach this phase are considered cured from hepatitis C. Even for those that don’t become cured, these treatments can reduce and suppress the virus.
Many women actually discover that they have hepatitis C after normal blood work during an annual checkup. The blood work may show high levels of liver enzymes, which typically point to inflammation in the liver. If your doctor suspects this may be due to hepatitis C, they may recommend a hepatitis c virus antibody test to see if there are antibodies to the virus in your blood.
Current recommendations are that all adults should be tested at least once in their lifetime. Experts also recommend pregnant women and people with higher risk factors should also be tested for hepatitis c. Talk to our women’s health care providers about your health and whether you need to get tested for hep C.
For quality health care and a team that listens to you, visit one of our convenient HerKare locations. We are a women’s health clinic run by women for women to provide you with the health care services you need to feel your best. From preventative checkups to finding underlying causes of your symptoms, we are here to help you. Our providers offer quality care to help empower women regarding their health. Make an appointment today to experience the HerKare difference.