Symptoms of Hepatitis C
Many people with Hepatitis C Virus will not experience any symptoms, those who do may have
- Muscle aches and soreness
- Loss of appetite
- Aversion to smoking
- Yellowing of the skin and eyes, known as jaundice
If the initial acute phase of HCV develops into chronic and liver damage occurs, known as cirrhosis, the patient may experience
- Fluid retention in the belly
- Swelling in the lower legs
- Bleeding and/or easy bruising
- Weight gain
- Itchy skin
- Impaired thinking due to buildup of toxins in the body due to the livers decreased ability to filter
Diagnosis of Hepatitis C
Diagnosis of HCV infection includes serology testing of the blood serum, biopsy examination of the liver tissue, immunohistology of the specimens, biomarker testing, ultrasonography, CT scan examination.The interpretation of the HCV tests of infants is misleading due to the presence of the maternal antibodies in the infant’s blood for as long as 18 months.
Serology Testing for Hepatitis C:
The most commonly used diagnostic tool for HCV is blood testing for the presence of anti-HCV antibody and HCV viral load.
- The anti-HCV antibody is detected by enzyme immunoassay in which the blood of the patient is drawn and tested. A positive anti-HCV antibody indicated infection.
- The viral load is calculated by an HCV RNA polymerase chain reaction (PCR). A positive viral load indicates infection.
- If the anti-HCV antibody is detected in the presence of an HCV viral load the patient does not have acute HCV.
- If the PCR test and immunoblot confirmatory testing turn negative for viral load, the patient is not suffering from the active HCV infection.
Liver Function Tests:
Abnormal liver function tests are a sign of hepatitis. Elevation of the liver enzymes ALT/AST signifies inflammation and possible damage. However, the inflammation could be due to other factors besides hepatitis such as to alcohol and drugs. In addition, the elevation of ALT/AST might not be detectable in the initial period of HCV but will appear within seven weeks of the infection.
The biopsy is not required for diagnosis, however, it is useful in the management of the HCV infection. The severity of liver damage can be judged by the liver biopsy. Recent studies show that 25% of patients with HCV will show inflammation on liver biopsy and 30% will show fibrosis (damage to the tissue).
Because of the long and silent window period from exposure to illness, HCV infection is usually identified at a later stage. It is recommended that the screening for HCV be conducted regularly in the high-risk group. Patients with abnormal liver function test should also check the presence of HCV. The baby boomer generation is at increased risk and should be tested at least once in a lifetime for Hep C.