Stomach Issues from Hepatitis C: Safe Ways to Manage Digestive Health

Why am I having digestive issues?

One of the symptoms of hepatitis C is damage to the liver. In many cases, a person does not show symptoms of hepatitis C (hep C) for quite a while after the infection has begun, leaving lots of time for the liver to become damaged. This liver damage impedes the liver’s ability to complete its part of the bodily function process. This is how stomach issues from hepatitis C can arise.

The liver's purpose

The liver’s purpose is to produce bile, which is a fluid that helps to break down different types of fats. When everything is working correctly, as you eat fatty food, the liver produces bile and sends it to the gall bladder, which then sends that to the small intestines (in a section called the duodenum). When the bile and the stomach’s natural juices and acids reach the fats, they are able to be broken down into something the stomach can digest, the body can process (getting all of the nutrients out and sending the rest away), and then what is left exits your body in your urine and feces.

How hep C affects the liver

However, hepatitis C can majorly impact your liver and its ability to do its job. When the liver is damaged, there may be less or even no bile being produced. This provides the gall bladder with no assistance in breaking down the fats, which can lead to gall bladder inflammation and pain. As the fats continue through the digestion process, there may not be the full breakdown occurring, which can lead to increased fluid in the belly or feelings of gas or other pain.

In addition, this may impact the body’s ability to separate out the nutrients from the waste. This can leave your body either eliminating what it should be keeping or keeping what it should be eliminating. This may result in feelings of nausea or loss of appetite, pain in the gall bladder or intestinal areas, dark-colored urine, or oddly colored stool.

What can I do to stop the stomach issues from hep C I am experiencing?

Begin by writing down what happened shortly before the pain began. Note what you ate, how much you exercised, and what else you were doing. Note where the pain is located, as well as how long it lasts and what happened that resolved the pain.

Keep an eye on your toilet and add information to your notes if your urine or feces looks unusual (write down specifically what appears different to you; color, amount, etc.). If the pain continues over multiple days or happens multiple times, meet with your doctor. Make sure to bring your notes so you can address each concern at your appointment and provide your doctor with the best possible picture of your on-going symptoms. This will allow your doctor to help you to make dietary changes or know if there is a medication that may be worth trying.

Never take medications for pain or digestion without discussing it with your doctor first. (Make sure to write down medications taken in your notes, too.)  This is because some medications may mask symptoms of a bigger problem or may alter the doctor’s ability to ascertain what is happening within your body.

How can I prevent these symptoms from impacting me in the future?

If you had any digestion or stomach issues before your hepatitis C diagnosis, discuss them with your doctor. There may be medications or dietary plans that can help to prevent painful digestive problems.

If these symptoms are new, you will want to do all you can to help your liver to have an easy time processing the food and beverage you consume each day. Start by making sure to drink plenty of fluids.

Your doctor likely instructed you to avoid all alcohol, both because it is difficult for your liver to process and because it may interfere with your hepatitis C medications. Instead, drink plenty of water. This will help your body to break down the food you consume, as well as helping to combat bloating or pain due to constipation during times when you eat something that your body struggles to break down.

When choosing food, choose less fatty cuts of meat (lean beef, pork, or chicken breast) and avoid saturated fats (fried foods are the most common). Provide your body with leafy greens and other produce so that your body has all of the vitamins and minerals it needs for its other organs and bodily processes.

By focusing on taking in the healthiest possible fuel for your body and keeping out anything fatty or alcoholic, you provide your liver with the best chance to complete its functions – even at a diminished capacity, which is most likely to lead to a pain-free digestion experience.1,2

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