Why Get Treated?
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Nancy Reau, MD Associate Professor of Medicine, University of ChicagoHepatitis C is a virus that infects the liver but is carried through the blood or other bodily fluids. That means that most people who are infected with Hepatitis C, even though it is a liver disease, are exposed through contaminated blood such as a blood transfusion, or sharing needles or a needle stick injury, sexual transmission, or even being exposed at the time of birth.
Also blood transfusions or other products that have been infected with Hepatitis C are easy ways to get exposed to Hepatitis C. When you are infected with Hepatitis C, the liver doesn't have a lot if signals to let you know that it is stressed, because of that we call it a silent killer. Because the liver has to be severely damaged before you have liver specific complaints. Traditionally Hepatitis C treatment was hampered by the fact that the medicines had a lot of toxicity.
Nearly every individual who was treated felt some form of a side effect from that therapy. Now the pill regiments do have potential side effects but these are usually easy to manage. Some have headaches, mild nausea, itching, sun sensitivity, but again these things typically do not limit our ability to get someone through a course of therapy and cured of their disease.
So if you miss doses that means that virus now has the opportunity to re-cooperate from the medicine and become active. And if you have a virus that is active in the presence of not enough drug, the virus can make mutations or mistakes that make that medicine not as effective against the virus. So skipping doses or taking a break from your Hepatitis C therapy can make your hepatitis outsmart the medicines that we need to use to cure it. And having resistance to those medicines might impact what other medicines we can use in the future if this therapy would fail.
So we used to think that cirrhosis was permanent or that scar tissue was permanent and now we know that if we can cure the Hepatitis C, the liver is a very regenerative organ. Some people, nearly all people, will show an improvement in their liver over time. And some people with cirrhosis may even reverse their cirrhosis to a much healthier liver, but since we can't guarantee that if you have advanced disease we still recommend that you are regularly followed.
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