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Hepatitis C & Diabetes – What’s the Connection?

Studies across the globe have found that there seems to be a connection between having hepatitis C and an increased risk for both Type 1 and 2 diabetes (T1D and T2D); some studies have also found that patients with T2D have an increased risk for hepatitis C.1 Not all studies have show this connection, but still show that there are relationships between liver function and how the body absorbs insulin.2

Approximately one third of hepatitis C patients have T2D, which is significantly more than patients with other liver diseases.1 It also appears that diabetes and hepatitis C interact in the opposite way: Patients with T2D are more likely to have hepatitis C (4.2% of patients with diabetes have hepatitis C, when only 1.2% of non-diabetics have hepatitis C).1

Risk factors

There are several factors that can further increase the risk of developing T2D:

  • Growing older is an unavoidable factor. Hepatitis C patients over forty were twice as likely to have T2D than patients under forty.1
  • Another important factor is family history. One to two thirds of patients who have hepatitis C and T2D report having a family history of diabetes.1
  • The genotype of the hepatitis C virus can be a factor in T2D risk. Patients with genotype 2 or 2a hepatitis C are more likely to have T2D than those with genotype 1 (but patients with genotype 1 can still develop diabetes). 1
  • Patients with cirrhosis are more likely to have T2D, and T2D in return can cause cirrhosis to develop faster.1
  • Finally, the use of treatment regimen interferon alpha can play a role in a patient developing T1D.1

Signs and symptoms

If you’re concerned about diabetes, here are some symptoms to look out for:3

  • You find you are thirstier, or urinating more often. The increased sugar in the blood will cause the body to pull water out of your systems. This will often make you thirsty.
  • You find that you are much hungrier than usual. Because the sugar isn’t making it to your cells, your body will want to find more energy, and will trigger you to be hungry.
  • You find you are losing weight, even if you are eating more. As your body can’t process sugar, it may start burning fat or muscle for fuel.
  • You are constantly tired, and maybe more irritated. Your body is not getting the energy it needs from what you eat, so it makes you tired.
  • Your vision has been blurry. As water is pulled out of your system, it can make your eyes drier, which can blur vision.
  • You have cuts and sores that take longer to heal. You may also notice more frequent infections. Diabetes can affect your immune system.
  • You find patches of darker skin. This skin is usually found in folds or joints, and can have a velvety texture. It can be a sign of insulin resistance.

Diabetes symptoms can show up slowly, and you may not have even noticed they were happening. Patients can have T2D for years and not realize it.3

Ask your healthcare provider

If you have any of the above symptoms, have a discussion with your physician, as he/she might want to test you for diabetes, especially if you’ve had interferon alpha.1 You can also be proactive and ask your physician to test your Hemoglobin A1C (a blood test which can predict diabetes), or your fasting plasma glucose once or even twice a year. Be sure to check with your insurance provider if they will cover these tests more than once a year.

Talk with your physician about any concerns you have, and if you are found to have T2D, know that there are multiple treatments available that can help you keep your sugars under control. Your medical team will help you find the best treatment for your needs.

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