- What is hepatitis?
- How do I know if I have hepatitis C?
- What is fatty liver disease?
- How are fatty liver disease and hepatitis C connected?
- When should I see a doctor and what treatments are available?
- Can fatty liver disease and hepatitis C be cured?
Approximately 100 million people in the United States have been diagnosed with fatty liver disease and another 2.4 million people are living with hepatitis C, though the number may be as high as 4.5 million because many people have the disease but haven’t been diagnosed. Both diseases affect the liver of the afflicted person. However, about 40% of patients with hepatitis C have a co-occurring diagnosis of fatty liver. So, what is fatty liver disease and how does it impact hepatitis C? This resource will help you understand these diseases and how you can overcome them.
What is Hepatitis?
Hepatitis C is a liver infection caused by the hepatitis C virus (HCV). This disease is spread through contaminated blood from an infected person. This contact can occur through sharing needles, sexual contact, unregulated tattoos, razor blades or even contaminated toothbrushes. Prior to the 1990s, blood transfusions were risky, but modern controls have alleviated that risk. HCV, however, remains one of the most common bloodborne viral infections in the United States.
Your liver plays an important role in filtering toxins from the human body to help you resist infection. This large organ also affects other critical functions such as:
- Activating enzymes to aid a variety of bodily functions
- Converting nutrients to energy
- Producing bile to aid digestion
- Breaking down carbohydrates, fats and proteins
- Storing iron
- Synthesizing blood proteins and helping with blood clotting factors
When the liver is inflamed with hepatitis C, all of these important functions are affected. You will have an increased risk of long-term, chronic infections. This can increase the chances that you will develop complications such as cirrhosis or liver cancer.
How Do I Know If I Have Hepatitis C?
As many as two million people may have hepatitis C and not realize it. That’s because even chronic hepatitis C patients may not have symptoms until late in the disease. You may find out you have the disease accidently through routine screenings for other illnesses.
There are symptoms of hepatitis C that may or may not show up, including:
- Abdominal pain
- Dark yellow urine
- Light colored stools
- Loss of appetite
Some patients with hepatitis C can develop a complication called fatty liver disease. Fatty liver disease can also occur as a singular instance of liver illness.
What is Fatty Liver Disease?
Fatty liver disease is also known as steatosis or nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). There is also a type of alcoholic fatty liver caused by heavy drinking. As the name implies, it is a buildup of fat within the liver that causes scarring and inflammation. Fatty liver disease is linked to high triglycerides, blood sugar and obesity.
In some cases, your fatty liver disease will not cause health problems or prevent your liver from functioning. However, the disease can progress, causing a host of symptoms including:
- Liver inflammation and tissue damage
- Scarification or fibrosis can occur, which inhibits liver function
- When more scar tissue than healthy liver exist you develop cirrhosis of the liver, a life-threatening condition
The symptoms of fatty liver may not show up until the disease has progressed to a more serious stage. These symptoms could include:
- Abdominal pain
- Edema, or swelling in the legs and abdomen
- Jaundice, or yellowed skin and eyes
- Nausea and weight loss
- Tiredness or mental confusion
How are Fatty Liver Disease and Hepatitis C Connected?
Recent research has begun to define the connection between fatty liver disease and hepatitis C. You can have fatty liver disease on its own, or it can accompany a hepatitis C infection. If you have hepatitis C your chances of developing fatty liver disease is higher than developing the disease by itself. According to the data, about 50% of people with hepatitis C also have fatty liver disease.
Typically, we see two types of fatty liver disease in people with hepatitis C:
- Metabolic fatty liver caused by obesity, type 2 diabetes, raised blood fat levels, or insulin resistance
- Hepatitis-C induced fatty liver disease is caused by the HCV virus itself
You can actually have both forms of fatty liver disease simultaneously. Both forms of the disease have a negative effect on hepatitis C symptoms. How are these diseases treated and when should you see a doctor?
When Should I See a Doctor and What Treatments Are Available?
If you’re having symptoms of these disorders, or if any lab tests come back showing you have hepatitis C or that your liver enzymes are elevated, it is time to see a doctor. A diagnosis of hepatitis C is confirmed through a blood test.
To confirm the diagnosis of fatty liver, your doctor may order an ultrasound or CT scan to get a view of the liver. Your doctor may also order a liver biopsy to see how far the disease has progressed.
While there is no medication specifically for fatty liver disease, treatment of hepatitis C has evolved over the last decade. Currently, hepatitis C can be treated with oral antiviral medications like Sofosbuvir with Velpatasvir. The typical regimen consists of daily oral medications for 8-12 weeks.
Can Fatty Liver Disease and Hepatitis C Be Cured?
Hepatitis C can be eradicated in most cases with current antiviral medications. Your viral load will be measured about 12 weeks after treatment to confirm that the virus has been wiped out.
If you also have fatty liver disease, doctors typically focus on helping you make lifestyle changes that make the condition worse. Some of these treatments may include:
- Avoiding alcohol
- Losing weight
- Taking medications to control cholesterol, triglycerides or diabetes
- Taking vitamin E
For patients with advanced liver fibrosis, the disease will need monitoring every six months due to an increased risk of liver cancer.
You can live with fatty liver and hepatitis C. Digestive Disease Consultants of Orlando has helped patients recover from and manage these liver disorders. If you have questions about your diagnosis, please don’t hesitate to talk with our team and schedule your appointment today.