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Hepatitis C

Monday, January 17, 2005
Woman running through field
What is hepatitis C?
The term hepatitis means inflammation of the liver — which can be caused by toxins, metabolic abnormalities or infection. Although many different infectious agents can cause inflammation of the liver — the six Hepatitis viruses are so termed because they specifically target the liver.

Symptoms of Hepatitis C
The liver may appear to be completely normal, or enlarged due to chronic hepatitis and fatty change. With continuing liver damage, cirrhosis can develop where the liver is shrunken with fibrosis.

There may be cholestasis and fatty change (variable). Chronic hepatitis - chronic inflammation with the features described above. The continued loss of hepatocytes results in fibrous septum formation whcih accompanied by regeneration eventuates in cirrhosis.

Diagnosis of Hepatitis C
Most patients do not present until many years after acute infection with abnormal liver function tests or with chronic liver disease. Most acute infections asymptomatic.

  • 10 percent experience mild flu-like illness with jaundice and a rise in AST on liver function tests
  • Manifestation outside of the liver includes arthritis, glomerulonephritis and porphyria cutanea tarda (associated with skin photosensitivity).

Chronic liver disease — symptoms of this include:

  • Jaundice
  • Distended abdomen due to portal hypertension (splenomegally, ascites) — leading to abdominal discomfort
  • Easy bruising

Signs of chronic liver disease include

  • Jaundice
  • Hepatomegaly initially followed by cirrhosis (small shrunken liver),
  • Gynaecomastia (developing breasts in males, loss of chest hair, hypogonadism, ascites, splenomegaly, spider naevi on chest wall, easy bruising.
Information courtesy of Virtual Medical Centre: original information housed at Virtual Gastro Centre.

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