a nurse and doctor are speaking hepatitis C medical terms to their patient

Understanding Medical Lingo for Hep C

Electronic health records (called EMRs or EHRs) are changing the way you get your medical information. Often, you can now read medical notes written by your provider without having to make a request through Medical Records. However, being able to read those notes and understand them are two different things. Medical terms can be confusing and sound scary. Here are some terms you may find in your notes and what they mean:


Ascites is condition where fluid builds up in your abdomen (belly). The fluid can cause your belly to look bloated and swollen. Pressure from this fluid can make it difficult to eat or breath. The fluid may need be pulled from your belly with a needle; This is called a paracentesis.1


Ammonia is one of the most common toxins that build up in your blood stream if your liver isn’t working well. High levels of ammonia can cause hepatitis encephalopathy (a condition that causes confusion, slowed thinking, and more). The only way to lower your ammonia levels is using medications that pull ammonia into your intestines, and eventually, out into your stool (poop).2,3

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Cirrhosis is a hardening and scarring of the liver. This can happen for a number of reasons, including alcohol and drug use, viruses (like hep C), or other conditions causing damage to the liver over a long period of time. Cirrhosis can be staged, from 1 to 4, with 4 being the most severe.1

Esophageal varices

Esophageal varies are swollen blood vessels in the esophagus caused by high pressure in the portal vein (the blood vessel that sends blood to the liver). Varices can become swollen enough that they burst, causing serious bleeding. Esophageal banding or ligation can treat esophageal varices.1


Jaundice is a condition where your skin and the white part of your eyes turn yellow. The yellow comes from the build-up of bilirubin in your body. Bilirubin is more likely to build up if you have chronic liver disease or if you have a blocked bile duct in your digestive tract. If the cause is acute (or short term), like a blocked bile duct, it tends to go away as the “problem” is fixed.1

Liver enzymes

Liver enzymes are enzymes (or proteins) that work in the liver. Common ones tested in blood work are called AST and ALT. In medical notes, instead of using AST or ALT, providers may write “elevated liver enzymes” or “normal liver enzymes” depending on the lab work results. Elevated liver enzymes may mean that your liver is unhealthy.1

Portal hypertension

The main blood vessel that sends blood to your liver is called the portal vein. The pressure in that vein can become higher than normal if the liver has hardened or scarred (cirrhosis). In short, it’s hard for the blood to flow into the liver because it’s become hardened. High pressure (hypertension) in this vessel can cause the pressure in other blood vessels to increase, especially the blood vessels in the esophagus. This can cause esophageal varices to develop.1


Thrombocytopenia is a condition where your body’s thrombocytes are too low. Thrombocytes, sometimes referred to as platelets, are the blood cells which help your blood clot normally. Low levels mean your risk of bleeding is higher and your body’s ability to stop that bleeding is much lower.1

Considering talking to your doctor if you have questions about medical terms or your personal medical needs.

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