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Hepatitis C: A Woman’s Guide to the Virus

Hepatitis C, also known as HVC, is a virus that infects the liver. Hepatitis C It is the one of the most common blood-related diseases in the United States. It causes more deaths each year than HIV. In the United States, it is estimated that three million or more people have hepatitis C. About half of those infected are women and most do not know that they have the virus as it can be present with no symptoms. The majority of those infected will not be able to eliminate the virus from their system and will experience chronic infection. Approximately 15 percent of people with hepatitis C will spontaneously clear the infection from their body. In these cases, the virus only causes a mild illness before it passes out of the body. Women are more likely than men to eliminate the hepatitis C virus without medication, according to researchers. It is suspected that women’s hormones play a role in helping them get rid of the virus.

How Does One Get Hepatitis C?

Hepatitis C is passed from person to person when they come into contact with infected blood. The most common cause of infection is through Intravenous drug use. Contaminated, shared needles are often to blame for hepatitis C infection. The virus can also be spread through sexual contact, breastfeeding and at birth.

What Should Women Know About Hepatitis C?

Sometimes people with chronic hepatitis C infection may not know that they have the infection until they have cirrhosis of the liver, as hepatitis C may not cause any symptoms. It is important for women to know whether or not they have hepatitis C infection, especially if pregnant as the virus can be spread to their newborn child through childbirth. Certain lifestyle or life history events put women at greater risk for contracting hepatitis C infection.  If you have any of the risk factors below, it is best to talk to your physician about being tested for the virus.

  • History of drug use
  • Exposure to blood from sharp objects or needles
  • Blood transfusion before 1992
  • HIV infection
  • Long-term alcohol abuse
  • High-risk sexual behavior

What Are The Symptoms in Women?

The onset of hepatitis C symptoms are often much later for women than men. In addition, women frequently have milder symptoms. Although hepatitis C can present differently in women than in men, the actual symptoms are the same for both.  Here are some of the most common symptoms:

  • Nausea
  • Fatigue
  • Fever
  • Yellowing of the skin
  • Loss of appetite
  • Stomach pain
  • Dark yellow urine
  • Diarrhea
  • Itchy Skin

Complications and Risks of Chronic Hepatitis C Infection

Some of the complications of hepatitis C infection include damage to your liver or cirrhosis of the liver. Cirrhosis can result in liver failure. It can cause damage to the brain and nervous system and is a risk factor for liver cancer.

Treatment Options

Hepatitis C can be cured, but treatment does not always remove the virus from the body.  Over the years, treatments have gotten better and more people are being cured by taking medication at home for a couple of weeks.

Living With Hepatitis C

Coping with hepatitis C can be a difficult experience. It is common for women with hepatitis C to experience frequent illnesses and constant fatigue. Here are some things that you can do to take care of yourself if you have hepatitis C.

  • Avoid alcohol
  • Get plenty of exercise
  • Eat nutritious, healthy foods
  • Maintain a healthy social support network

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