Hepatitis C in close connection with other viral hepatitis can rightly be called one of the disasters of the 21st century. According to statistics, about 2-3% of the world’s population is infected with the hepatitis C virus, millions of people die every year or lose their quality of life and ability to work. What is so dangerous hepatitis C, what are the pitfalls and what are the first symptoms of this disease – try to make out in this article.
Features of viral hepatitis C
To understand what symptoms and signs you need to pay attention to, it is necessary to understand the features of hepatitis C infection and the specifics of the course of the disease.
- The term hepatitis literally means inflammation of the liver. This inflammation can cause any virus or bacteria, poisons, alcohol, certain medications, autoimmune diseases. In the case of viral hepatitis C, the inflammatory process proceeds with some peculiarities. The virus, getting into the cells of the liver, does not attack them itself. He embeds his genetic code in the DNA of hepatic cells, hepatocytes, multiplying and making copies inside the cells. The immune system cannot recognize the virus “under cover” and attacks its own cells. The liver tissue gradually dies off, being replaced by fatty and connective tissue. These processes are called “fatty degeneration of the liver” and “cirrhosis”, respectively.. The remaining liver tissue is forced to perform double work, so the living parts of the liver increase in volume – an increase in the liver or hepatomegaly occurs.
- Hepatitis C belongs to the parenteral hepatitis group, that is, the pathogen enters from the blood into the blood. Strictly speaking, the causative agent can enter the blood from any biological fluid of the body: blood, saliva, sperm, vaginal secretions, amniotic fluid, and so on. Hence the main ways of transmission of the virus:
- Sexual pathway as a result of unprotected sex.
- Directly through the blood: blood transfusion, transplantation of donor organs, medical and cosmetic manipulations, tattooing. This also includes the main way of infecting drug addicts – injection – through non-sterile needles and syringes.
- From mother to fetus: in utero (less often) and during childbirth.
- When hepatitis C is damaged by the liver cells, its main functions are affected. It often happens that the liver function is preserved for a long time, but at the same time several of its tasks are switched off simultaneously:
- Cleansing the blood of toxins, poisons, waste products of the body.
- Digestive or bile secretion function. Bile, mixed with pancreatic juice, carries out digestion in the duodenum.
- Hemostatic or synthesis of coagulation factors. Without special substances of protein nature, blood clotting processes are disturbed.
- Immune function is the production of liver immunoglobulins and protection factors. The destruction of hepatocytes disrupts the body’s immune response.
- The depositing function of the liver is to store “in reserve” carbohydrates, iron and some vitamins.
The first signs of hepatitis C
Now, when we figured out what tasks the liver performs, it is easy to understand which symptoms you should pay attention to first.
Symptoms of acute hepatitis C
Acute hepatitis C is quite rare, and its symptoms are similar to any acute liver inflammation of a viral, bacterial or toxicological nature.. It is important to understand that similar symptoms occur both in acute hepatitis first manifested, and in exacerbation of chronic hepatitis C.
- Weakness, lethargy, drowsiness, irritability – the consequences of intoxication of the body by decomposition products of the liver tissue and toxins not neutralized by the liver.
- Pain and heaviness in the right hypochondrium, vomiting, nausea, diarrhea are a manifestation of impaired digestive function of the liver and the exchange of bile.
- Yellowing of the skin, sclera of the eyes and mucous membranes. This rather specific symptom of any liver damage is called jaundice. Yellow staining of tissues occurs due to the accumulation of bilirubin in them. Bilirubin is a product of red blood cell death. This substance is normally formed daily and undergoes a series of transformations in the liver cells, enters the bile and leaves the body as part of the feces.
- Temperature increases rarely and usually to low figures (within 37.5 degrees).
The incubation period or the time from the moment of contact with the virus to the onset of clinical manifestations is extremely variable – from 2 weeks to 1 year! Therefore, it is often impossible to establish the time of infection, as well as distinguish acute hepatitis from exacerbation of chronic.
Symptoms of chronic hepatitis C
Unfortunately, in 80% of cases, hepatitis C has a primary chronic course. For many years, the disease flows hidden, almost not showing itself. A person is unaware of his illness, leads a normal life, uses alcohol, aggravating his condition, has unprotected sex and infects others. The function of the liver in hepatitis C remains compensated for a long time, but often this apparent well-being ends in acute liver failure. What indirect signs can push a person to think about a violation of liver function?
- Weakness, lethargy and drowsiness. Extremely non-specific symptoms characteristic of many diseases, however, patients with hepatitis often characterize their weakness as “terrifying.” “I can’t open my eyes,” “I’m ready to sleep 20 hours a day,” “my legs are weakened” – these characteristics are often heard by infectious disease doctors.
- Dull pains under the right rib, intermittent nausea, taste disturbance. It is important to understand that with the gradual death of liver cells, the remaining tissue mass compensatory increases. The liver increases in size and stretches the liver capsule, there is pain. Since this happens gradually, sharp or sharp pains are not characteristic of cirrhosis against the background of hepatitis.
- Joint pains are also a non-specific symptom of hepatitis, but they occur quite often.
- Periodic yellowing of the skin and mucous membranes. In the chronic course of hepatitis C, jaundice appears and disappears. Often, patients notice a slight yellowing of the sclera or skin in the morning after a festive dinner with an abundance of fatty foods, meat and alcohol. Thus, on ordinary days, the liver copes with the exchange of bilirubin, but after a “double” stroke of fatty foods and alcohol, it temporarily refuses.
- The appearance of bruises, hematomas, spider veins, excessive bleeding of the gums, abundant menstruation in women indicate a deficiency of blood coagulation factors responsible for the liver.
- Edematous syndrome and its extreme manifestation is ascites. Swelling occurs due to an insufficient amount of protein and nutrients in the blood. Ascites is an accumulation of fluid in the abdominal cavity with a proportional increase in the abdomen, which the patient notices. This is due to impaired blood flow in the vessels of the abdominal cavity. This symptom is characteristic of cirrhosis against the background of hepatitis. Sometimes in the abdominal cavity accumulates up to 20 liters of fluid.
- Dry and pale skin, hair loss, brittleness and foliation of the nails are the consequences of a lack of vitamins and iron metabolism, for which the liver is responsible. Often, patients with hepatitis have a pronounced lack of vitamins of group B and iron, leading to anemia (anemia).
- Impotence and infertility are often observed in patients with hepatitis C. Inability to conceive a child, habitual miscarriage is often observed in women carrying hepatitis C. The main sexual symptoms of hepatitis C in men are impotence and impaired spermatogenesis. This is due to a violation of the metabolism of sex hormones, which necessarily pass their transformations in the liver.
So, the symptoms and signs of hepatitis C are extremely diverse and unspecific. Often, the diagnosis is set completely by chance, during routine blood tests for viral hepatitis markers: before surgery, during pregnancy, before blood donation. Do not refuse if you are offered to perform an analysis for hepatitis. Do not hesitate to independently apply for blood tests for hepatitis C and B, especially in many institutions, these tests are carried out anonymously. Your life and health are in your hands!