Viral hepatitis refers to infections caused by viruses that affect the liver. Viral hepatitis includes five distinct diseases, caused by five different viruses. The different viruses are called by a letter name:
Hepatitis C Symptoms
Hepatitis C may develop without any signs or symptoms, or symptoms may be nonspecific and short-lived.
There are three phases of hepatitis C, and symptoms may differ depending on the stage.
Early in the disease, called the prodromal phase , symptoms may include:
Joint pain or arthritis
Symptoms of the next phase, the preicteric phase , include:
During the icteric phase :
Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes) develops
Other symptoms may subside
Anorexia, nausea and vomiting may worsen
Irritated skin lesions may develop
Hepatitis C Diagnosis at Johns Hopkins
Often, patients with hepatitis C do not experience any symptoms. Many are diagnosed after routine blood works shows abnormal liver enzymes. Sometimes, patients are tested because of their risk factors, such as exposure to needles or a history of blood transfusions.
To diagnose hepatitis C, we may run the following tests:
The hepatitis C antibody is found in almost every patient with hepatitis C. However, the antibody takes weeks or even months to develop, so if you are tested early after exposure, a false negative may result.
If the blood test is positive for hepatitis C antibody, we will confirm the findings with a sensitive test that can detect even minute amounts of hepatitis C in the blood. This test is called a PCR-based test.
During a biopsy, some of your liver tissue is removed and sent to a pathology lab for analysis. A liver biopsy is an invasive procedure that carries some risk but allows your doctor to determine the exact nature and severity of your condition.
Sometimes, a biopsy can be helpful when deciding how to treat the disease. For example, if the biopsy is close to normal, you may decide to postpone treatment. If the biopsy shows extensive disease, you may choose to begin treatment immediately.
Hepatitis C Treatment at Johns Hopkins
There is no cure for hepatitis C. Treatment includes making lifestyle changes and taking certain medications to suppress the virus. Learn more about treatment for hepatitis C at Johns Hopkins.