Hepatitis C and Your Liver.
Before we talk about Hepatitis C, it’s important for you to know a little bit about your liver and what it does.
The liver is the largest organ inside your body. It is about the size of a football, weighs about 1 kilogram, and is located in the upper right portion of the abdomen underneath the lower rib cage.
What does the liver do?
- It processes food, drugs and vitamins absorbed in the bloodstream for distribution throughout the body.
- It stores vitamins, minerals, iron and sugars and later releases them into the bloodstream when needed by the body.
- It removes environmental and internally produced toxins from the bloodstream.
- It manufactures bile, protein and blood clotting agents.
- It keeps hormones at the right levels.
- It regulates cholesterol and chemicals in the blood.
- It builds and breaks down body proteins and other compounds.
If you’re interested, here’s a great video that explains how the liver works and what it does.
What is Hepatitis?
The word hepatitis means inflammation (swelling) of the liver – the word is derived from the Greek word hêpar (meaning “liver”) and the suffix -itis (meaning “inflammation”). If your doctor tells you that you have hepatitis, it means that your liver is swollen.
There are many things that can cause hepatitis, including certain medications, drugs, alcohol, toxins, illnesses, and viruses. If you have hepatitis, it is important to ask your doctor what might be causing it and what you should do to help your liver.
What Is Hepatitis C?
Hepatitis C is inflammation of the liver that is caused by the hepatitis C virus. Hepatitis C is spread through blood to blood contact.
It is estimated that between 250,000 – 300,000 Canadians are infected with hepatitis C.
1 in 12 people worldwide are estimated to have hepatitis C.
What Are Hepatitis C Genotypes?
If you have hepatitis C and are considering treatment, your doctor or nurse will need to know what genes make up your hepatitis C virus – this is called your “genotype”. There are 6 different genotypes (1a, 2a, 2b, 2c, 3a, 3b, 4a, 5a, 6a) with 1a being the most common in North America and 1b the second most common. It is possible, but rare, to have more than one genotype.
It’s okay if you don’t know your genotype – it only takes a simple blood test to find out. Knowing your genotype allows your doctor to select treatment medications that will best target the virus in your body. None of the genotypes is “the worst” – they are all hepatitis C and they can all damage your liver.
What Are The Symptoms of Hepatitis C?
Most people have no symptoms at all, but liver damage can occur with or without symptoms. It is also possible to have severe symptoms but no liver damage. The only way to know that you have hepatitis C is to get tested.
Some symptoms may include:
- Abdominal discomfort
- Poor appetite
- Problems sleeping
How Does Hepatitis C Affect My Liver?
The inflammation caused by hepatitis C can lead to a build-up of scar tissue (called “fibrosis”), which can change the liver structure. It is harder for blood to reach all parts of the liver. Loss in blood supply will cause the liver cells to die.
As the cells die, it becomes more difficult for the liver to store nutrients and remove toxins.
If the virus is left untreated it can lead to cirrhosis (when the liver tissue changes in structure) which can cause the liver to stop functioning.
Even if your liver is not functioning well, getting treatment for hepatitis C can help to prevent further damage and keep you healthier.