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Therapies Available for Hepatitis C

Contact the UPMC Center for Liver Care

To make an appointment with a UPMC liver expert, call 412-647-1170 or fill out our contact form.

What Is Hepatitis C?

Hepatitis C is a severe liver infection. Also known as HCV or hep C, it starts as a short-term infection with the hepatitis C virus.

More than half of people infected with hep C develop a lifelong infection. This is most likely to happen for people who do not receive treatment before the disease progresses.

Left untreated, the hep C virus can cause:

  • Cirrhosis
  • Liver cancer
  • Kidney damage

Many people with HCV don't know they have it. That's why all adults should get a hepatitis C test at least once in their life.

Around 2.4 million people in the U.S. were living with hepatitis C in 2016.

The CDC estimates that about 50,000 people had acute hepatitis C in 2018. There were also nearly 16,000 hepatitis C-related deaths that year.

Hepatitis C causes

Hep C spreads between people when blood from an infected person enters the body of someone who is not infected.

Common ways the virus spreads include:

  • Not following safe needle-use behaviors.
  • Not sterilizing tattooing or piercing equipment properly between uses.
  • Sharing personal care products, like razors or toothbrushes.
  • During pregnancy, from an infected mother to her baby.
  • Blood transfusions or organ transplants that occurred before 1992.
  • Rough sexual practices.

You can't get HCV

  • Sharing food, water, or eating utensils.
  • Hugging, kissing, or holding hands.
  • Breastfeeding.
  • Coughing and sneezing.

Hepatitis C risk factors and complications

Some people face an increased risk of getting HCV, such as those:

  • Born between 1945 and 1965.
  • Who have HIV or AIDS.
  • Who engage in high-risk behaviors like IV drug use.
  • Who have homemade tattoos or piercings.
  • Who have unprotected sex with many partners in a short time.

You also might be at risk for hep C if you:

  • Received a blood transfusion before 1992.
  • Received blood-clotting products before 1987.
  • Have had long-term kidney dialysis treatment.

Left undiagnosed or untreated, hepatitis can cause serious, even fatal, complications such as:

  • Cirrhosis, or hardening, of the liver.
  • Liver cancer.
  • Liver failure.

How to prevent hepatitis C

There are some steps you can take to reduce your risk of contracting hepatitis C:

  • Never share or reuse needles.
  • Only receive tattoos or piercings from workers who properly sterilize their tools between customers.
  • Don't share personal-care products like toothbrushes or razors.
  • If you're pregnant, allow your ob-gyn to test and treat you.
  • Use a condom during sex.
  • Limit your number of sexual partners.

Why Choose UPMC's Center for Liver Diseases for Hepatitis C Care?

Our experts have tested many new antiviral medicines for hepatitis C. These new drugs have been game-changers for many people with the disease. We may even see the end of hepatitis C in the next few decades.

We take a team approach to provide the best results for people with chronic hepatitis C.

At the UPMC Center for Liver Care, your care team will include:

  • Hepatologists and other doctors
  • Physician assistants
  • Nurses
  • Clinical pharmacologists
  • Psychiatrists

Hepatitis C Symptoms and Diagnosis

Part of what makes hep C so dangerous is that many people don't have symptoms. Or you might have symptoms that go away for a short time.

But liver damage can get worse even without symptoms. Damage can be severe by the time you receive your diagnosis.

Hepatitis C symptoms

If you have any of these symptoms, let your doctor know:

  • Severe fatigue.
  • Stomach pain.
  • Nausea.
  • Loss of appetite.
  • Dark urine.
  • Extreme itching.
  • Light, or clay-colored, stools.
  • Yellowed skin or eyes, known as jaundice.

Your doctor might order a blood test for you if you have some or all of these symptoms.

Diagnosing hepatitis C

Your doctor diagnoses HCV using blood test results.

Certain blood tests can reveal whether you have active hep C or had the infection in the past. Your doctor will order these blood tests if you show symptoms.

But sometimes, people get tested for hepatitis even if they don't have symptoms. The CDC urges all adults to get hep C testing at least once.

People should also have a test for hep C if they:

  • Inject drugs currently.
  • Have ever injected drugs, even if it was just once or many years ago.
  • Have HIV.
  • Are pregnant.
  • Get dialysis.
  • Received blood transfusions or had an organ transplant before 1992.
  • Received clotting factor products before 1987.
  • Were exposed to the blood of a person with hep C.
  • Were born to a mother with HCV.

IV drug users and people on dialysis should receive regular hep C testing.

After your doctor confirms your diagnosis, you'll need more tests to find out if you have liver damage.

These tests might include:

  • FibroScan® — a noninvasive liver ultrasound to see how much fibrosis your liver has.
  • A liver biopsy — surgery to remove a small piece of liver to test it.

Hepatitis C Treatment

Thanks to recent antiviral drugs, doctors can cure most people of hep C if they diagnose it early.

Your doctor will tailor your treatment to your health and needs.

Medicine to treat hepatitis C

The CDC recommends that doctors use antiviral drugs to treat everyone who has hepatitis C, regardless of how advanced the disease is. While treating a long-term infection won't reverse liver damage, it can prevent further damage.

The newest drugs, known as direct-acting antivirals, have greatly improved treatment options. UPMC doctors — many of whom tested these drugs in clinical trials — are experts at combining them with older medicines.

Today, people often have fewer side effects and better results. Your doctor will create a treatment plan for you based on your health and whether you have liver damage.

Surgery to treat hepatitis C

If medicine doesn't help treat your advanced hepatitis C, you may need a liver transplant.

If you need a transplant, we'll work closely with doctors at the UPMC Liver Transplant Program to provide seamless care. This means you can focus on healing.