Most people who have hepatitis C don’t know it. Yet, early diagnosis — and treatment — of the virus can protect your health and prevent transmission to others.
Hepatitis is a serious health condition that, if left untreated, can damage your liver.
Pakistan has the world’s second highest prevalence of hepatitis C.
Up to three in four people who are infected haven’t been diagnosed.
That’s particularly troubling, because the sooner you start treatment, the better your chances of being cured.
“Remarkably, we have medications that can cure hepatitis C now,” Dr. Gill says. “The new therapies are mild” — side effects are minimal compared with the old therapies, he explains — “so people shouldn’t be afraid” to start treatment as soon as possible after diagnosis.
But waiting for symptoms to appear before getting diagnosed isn’t advisable. Acute hepatitis can sometimes present with flu-like symptoms: fever, joint pain, muscle pain, dark urine, itching, loss of appetite, fatigue, and abdominal pain, says medical experts.
However, with chronic viral hepatitis, often there are no symptoms until the disease has progressed. And that can be too late for therapy to be effective.
This makes screening for hepatitis C all the more important. You should get screened if you have any of the following risk factors:
If you have hepatitis C, you want to know as early as possible, because early diagnosis can help improve outcomes in hepatitis C treatment, according to a study published in November 2015 in the journal Practitioner.
However, there are other reasons why screening and early diagnosis for hepatitis C is so important:
The duration of your treatment may be shorter. Hepatitis C is like most diseases in that “if you catch it early, it’s easier to treat,” Dr. Gill says.
In fact, he says, one small study discussed at the International Liver Congress in April 2016 found that just six weeks of treatment cured all participants with acute hepatitis C, even those with high viral loads. The standard treatment regimen for antiviral therapy is 12 weeks.
Your risk of complications may be lowered. Undetected and untreated chronic hepatitis C can lead to cirrhosis of the liver, Dr. Gill says.
With cirrhosis, scar tissue replaces healthy tissue and, as a result, blood can’t flow through the liver, which means the liver can’t function properly.
You may be able to avoid cirrhosis if you treat hepatitis C early, according to a study published in PLOS ONE in July 2016. The researchers found that treatment was most successful in stopping the deterioration of the liver if it was started before the deterioration began. Still, even people who have early cirrhosis can see liver improvement with treatment, Dr Gill notes.
You reduce your risk of developing liver cancer. Chronic hepatitis C is also a risk factor for primary liver cancer, according to the American Liver Foundation. However, treating chronic hepatitis C early can significantly reduce the chances of it continuing and causing liver cancer.
You can make lifestyle changes that help you stay healthy.
The sooner you know you have hepatitis C, the sooner you’ll be motivated to stop drinking alcohol and start eating a more balanced diet.
In addition to hepatitis C, you’re at risk for faster progression to cirrhosis if you also have health conditions like diabetes, high cholesterol, and a fatty liver. Watching your diet and getting regular exercise can help reduce inflammation in your liver and may help slow the progression to cirrhosis.