An estimated four million Americans are infected with the hepatitis C virus (HCV). A contagious blood-borne virus, hepatitis C causes liver disease through persistent liver inflammation. Up to 25% of HCV-infected individuals will develop cirrhosis if left untreated. Typically a silent condition, hepatitis C doesn’t reveal itself or the damage it is causing for years. In fact, symptoms of liver damage may not become apparent for several decades after the initial infection.
The hepatitis C virus is transmitted via blood and body fluids, typically through blood transfusion or intravenous drug use. Sharing needles, personal hygiene/grooming items such as razors or nail clippers and getting tattoos or body piercings also puts individuals at risk for contracting the disease. No vaccine currently exists to prevent hepatitis C.
Screening and Diagnosis of Hepatitis C
After asking questions about your medical history and lifestyle and performing a physical exam, your liver disease expert may order a specific blood test for hepatitis C. This screening test works to show the presence of the virus in your body. Immediate or acute infection may or may not result in hepatitis C symptoms. Signs of hepatitis C infection often don’t show up until your liver has been damaged.
Symptoms of longstanding disease include:
- dark urine
- abnormal stool coloration
- joint pain
For patients who test positive for hepatitis C and who may have unknowingly had the disease for many years, your physician may arrange for a non-invasive FibroScan® exam, blood tests or liver biopsy. These tests help assess the extent of liver damage, or stage, allowing your physician to develop a personalized hepatitis C treatment plan.
Hepatitis C Treatment
NorthShore is committed to the diagnosis and treatment of this insidious disease to help patients avoid its life-threatening complications. At our Skokie and Glenbrook Hospital locations, we have established dedicated HCV outpatient treatment programs with experienced support staff.
Hepatitis C treatment with antiviral medications is currently being revolutionized, with dramatic improvements in the safety, tolerability and efficacy of treatment. NorthShore provides our patients with the latest therapeutic options, including the new interferon- and ribavirin-free regimens such as sofosbuvir, ledipasvir and simeprevir. These drugs – typically taken in combinations- eradicate, or clear, the virus from your body, improve liver function and decrease liver scarring, preventing potential complications such as cirrhosis, liver cancer and liver failure.
Through our pharmacies, our patients have access to the latest, cutting-edge hepatitis C treatments such as the recently FDA-approved medication Horvoni (sofosbuvir + edipasvir) for patients who are infected with HCV genotype 1.
For More Information
For more information on hepatitis C symptoms and treatment or to schedule an appointment with one of our hepatologists, please call 847.657.1900.