Diabetes and Hep C
Last updated: July 2018
Diabetes induced by hep C doesn't require obesity or family history to develop. It can happen to anyone infected with the hepatitis C virus. It occurs when the HCV core protein interferes with factors that control insulin resistance.
Is prevention possible?
People who develop type II diabetes in the usual way can sometimes prevent development of the disease by diet and exercise during the pre-diabetic stage, but since hep C-induced diabetes begins in a completely different way, prevention may not be possible.
Untreated diabetes can cause nerve damage, resulting in numbness or severe pain in the extremities. The eyes are especially susceptible. High glucose levels can destroy the tiny blood vessels in your eyes, eventually causing blindness if left untreated. Diabetics should have their eyes checked by an ophthalmologist for retinal damage once a year.
Keeping diabetes under control
Small blood vessels are also located in the extremities, especially your feet. In the years before home glucose testing and management, foot and leg amputations were common. Today, home blood testing with a glucose meter and treatment with drugs or insulin can keep your glucose levels within the normal range.
Since diabetes can cause numbness in the feet, it's easy to injure them without knowing it. As diabetics tend to heal more slowly, a foot injury can easily become infected. Wearing shoes or slippers with a sole is the best way to avoid foot injury. Diabetics are advised never to go barefoot, not even around the house. Controlling your blood glucose level, along with yearly visits to your podiatrist are the most simple and effective ways to prevent catastrophic diabetic foot disease.
Too much sugar in your system can also cause a potentially fatal condition called diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA), which can occur in the presence of dehydration combined with high blood sugar. This condition always requires emergency treatment.
Symptoms to watch out for
Everyone infected with the hep C virus should familiarize themselves with the symptoms of the onset of diabetes:
- Frequent urination – getting up in the middle of the night several times to go to the bathroom
- Voracious appetite/craving sugar – this can occur because each molecule of sugar requires a corresponding molecule of insulin to enter the cells, where it is converted into energy. When insulin levels fall, sugar remains in the blood.
- Weight loss, despite eating more
- Unquenchable thirst
- Tingling or numbness in hands and feet
Having one of these symptoms is usually not enough to warrant concern. However, if you're experiencing three or more symptoms, see your doctor as soon as you can.
Curing hep C is still key
Of course, the optimal method of preventing HCV-mediated diabetes is getting rid of the virus in the early stages of the disease. Patients can now benefit from the high cure rates (over 90%) of treatment with direct-acting antivirals (DAAs). Need help now? Check out help4hep.org for free help with your hep C questions.