A man with his eyes closed is floating in water. A liver is visible inside his body, and the water ripples out from that point. Surrounding him underwater are sharks and other scary shapes with red eyes.

The Dangers of Untreated Hepatitis C

Hepatitis C is known as the silent killer because its symptoms generally do not show up for years until liver damage is already present.

The hepatitis C virus attacks your liver, causing liver damage that scars the liver while compromising liver function. It's like a ripple in a pond. Hepatitis C affects and damages other parts of the body like the kidneys, heart, brain, skin, nerves, joints, and muscles. When untreated, the hepatitis C virus with its long-term damaging effects makes you at risk for cirrhosis (severe scarring) and liver cancer.

Liver damage and hep C

The liver can regenerate healthy liver tissue to a point, but it cannot regenerate from severe liver damage such as cirrhosis. Once the patient has liver damage from cirrhosis, the patient is at a higher risk of complications and will need regular tests from your liver specialist. Depending on the severity of liver damage and liver function, you may require medications to help you with associated complications.

Importance of early treatment

Treatment for hepatitis C with direct-acting antivirals have a high cure rate, typically 95% and over. A standard course of treatment is for 8 to 12 weeks. Successful treatment for hepatitis C is achieved when the virus is eliminated from the body, stopping further liver damage from occurring.

Once you have completed the full course of treatment, you will receive an RNA test 12 weeks after you completed treatment to see if any virus is present and if so, how much. If you receive a non-detected result, you are shown to have an SVR12 (sustained virologic response), meaning you are cured. Along with preventing further liver damage, early treatment helps avoid associated conditions and damaging effects.

Keeping yourself healthy, minimizing risks

Here are some steps to avoiding liver damage and fighting hep C:

  • Don’t assume you don’t have hepatitis C. Even if you don’t have risk factors, you can still become infected.
  • Get tested. Don’t assume you have been tested. Testing for hepatitis C is not part of standard annual blood tests by your primary care doctor. Be safe, get tested.
  • If you have been diagnosed with hepatitis C, seek the care of a liver specialist like a hepatologist, gastroenterologist, or infectious disease doctor. These doctors specialize in liver disease and treatment.
  • Seek treatment as early as possible to avoid liver damage.
  • There are a variety of treatment options for all genotypes (virus strains), liver conditions, and health conditions.
  • There are patient assistance programs available if you need help paying for treatment.

Don’t assume you don’t have hepatitis C. Be safe, get tested. Early treatment for hepatitis C saves lives. Don’t forget about your hepatitis C, it doesn’t forget you!

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