What are the Long-Term Effects of Untreated Hep C?
Hep C or Hepatitis C causes inflammation of the liver. Hepatitis C is a blood borne virus that affects millions of people around the world every year. There are scores of people who never get diagnosed with Hepatitis C and hence do not seek treatment for this disease. Hep C or Hepatitis C is known as the silent virus, meaning that nearly 75 to 80% of people affected by the Hepatitis C virus do not show any symptoms for years. However, there are many types of serious complications and side effects of untreated hepatitis C, as the virus keeps on hurting the body without you coming to know of it. In fact, decades may pass before you feel any symptom of Hep C and by the time you do, the Hepatitis C virus would have already caused significant damage to your body in many different ways. So what are the long-term effects resulting from untreated Hep C or hepatitis C?
Let's take a look.
What is Hep C or Hepatitis C?
Hepatitis C is a serious disease that causes infection and inflammation of the liver. Hepatitis C develops after you are infected with the hepatitis C virus, commonly referred to as HCV. Hepatitis C can be of two types, either Chronic Hepatitis C or Acute Hepatitis C. There is no vaccine available for hep C, though efforts are ongoing to develop a vaccine for Hepatitis C.
Hepatitis C is a disease, which is highly contagious and this is why there are a huge number of people who are suffering from Hepatitis C; but nearly 80% of them remain unaware that they suffer from hepatitis C.
Hepatitis C is known as the silent virus because the Hepatitis C virus may not cause any symptoms for decades. However, this does not mean that you are fine. It only means that the Hep C virus is causing a lot of harm inside your body. By the time you start feeling the symptoms of hepatitis C, the virus has already caused significant damage to your body in many ways.
Long-Term Effects of Untreated Hep C or Hepatitis C
We now take a look at what are some of the long-term effects of untreated hepatitis C.
Liver Damage from Untreated Hep C
The liver is one of the most affected parts by Hep C or hepatitis C. HCV makes the liver swell or causes cirrhosis to develop, which is a chronic liver disease that happens when scar tissue starts to take over the healthy tissue inside the liver. The scarring of the liver slows down the blood flow to the liver and thus prevents the liver from being able to process out toxins and nutrients properly.
If hepatitis C is left untreated, cirrhosis causes a lot of damage to the liver, without being detected and can further cause conditions such as.
- Fluid accumulation in the abdomen.
- Chronic bruising and bleeding in the liver.
- Jaundice, leading to yellowing of the skin as well as the whites of the eyes.
- Painful swelling or edema of the feet and legs.
- Enlargement of the spleen known as splenomegaly.
- The chronic weakening of bone density causing a condition known as bone disease.
- Hepatic encephalopathy, or chronic poisoning of the brain due to the inability of the liver to process ammonia.
- Portal hypertension, or an increase in blood pressure in the body's portal venous system.
Without treatment of a chronic liver infection, a majority of people end up getting chronic hepatitis C, which is a long-term infection. When chronic hepatitis C is left untreated, it can cause. liver cancer, liver failure and cirrhosis (as discussed above).
Liver Cancer Resulting From Untreated Hep C or Hepatitis C
Statistics show that out of every 100 people diagnosed with hepatitis C, 1 to 5 of them will die from liver cancer or liver cirrhosis. It has also been observed that many people who develop liver cirrhosis also end up developing liver cancer over a period of time. This association is so strong because the cells that the liver produces to fight against cirrhosis have a high likelihood of mutating and turning into cancer cells. These cells are also likely to cause the development of tumors.
The problem is that liver cancer generally goes undetected because you do not tend to notice the symptoms until they become severe. Some symptoms of liver cancer that you should watch out for, especially if you suffer from liver cirrhosis or hep C, include.
- Pale stools.
- Tea-colored urine.
- Pain in the right shoulder or the back.
- Lumps or pain that develops to the right side of the abdomen.
- Breast enlargement.
- Testicles enlargement.
There are many treatment options for liver cancer, including chemotherapy, liver transplant or ablation (a process that destroys the cancerous tissue).
Liver Failure Resulting from Untreated Hep C
Similar to the statistics of developing liver cancer, out of 100 people who get diagnosed with Hep C or hepatitis C, nearly 60 to 70% of them end up developing chronic liver disease over a period of time. If hep C is left untreated, chronic liver disease develops as its long term effect, which will eventually lead to complete liver failure.
However, liver failure can be detected through a CT scan, a blood test, or even a liver biopsy. However, the present-day treatment for total liver failure stemming from hep C is only a liver transplant.
Work is underway, though, to boost the development of new treatments for liver failure arising from hepatitis C, including.
- Xenotransplantation. This is a process that replaces the human liver with an animal liver or tissues and cells. Xenotransplantation can help speed up the process of receiving an actual human liver transplant.
- Hepatocyte Transplantation. The process of hepatocyte transplantation involves transplanting a small part of the liver's cells, leaving the liver intact and allowing the cells to help heal and regenerate the liver.
- Artificial Liver Support Devices. Such devices can be used for carrying out the functioning of a failing liver that can no longer do its job. This solution gives the failing liver some time to heal and regenerate itself. An example of such artificial liver support devices is an extracorporeal liver support device (ELSD), which has already been successfully tested during clinical trials.
Blood and Vessel Issues from Untreated Hep C
People suffering from untreated hepatitis C often suffer from a condition known as cryoglobulinemia. This condition takes place when a certain protein in the bloodstream starts sticking together in the cold weather. They start to build up in the blood vessels, ultimately blocking the flow of blood. This, in turn, causes swelling and damage to the blood vessels. Cryoglobulinemia can affect the organs, skin, nerves and even your joints.
Apart from this problem with the blood vessels, untreated hep C can also cause problems with your blood in the long term. Untreated hepatitis C may cause you to stop producing sufficient white blood cells, which are required by the body to fight against infections. HCV may also lead to insufficient production of platelets, which are responsible for helping in blood clotting.
HCV infection also makes you bruise easily. You may end up getting purple or red spots under your skin from any type of bumps and bruises. These are typical symptoms of a bleeding disorder known as immune thrombocytopenic purpura.
High Blood Glucose Levels
Untreated Hep C or hepatitis C makes it difficult for the body's cells to take in glucose from the food you consume. However, keeping with the body's natural process, your pancreas will continue to produce more insulin, a hormone that is responsible for moving the glucose into your cells. This ultimately means that too much of the glucose or sugar will remain in the bloodstream, and over a period of time, your body will stop reacting to the effects of insulin. These scenarios are all risk factors of causing type 2 diabetes.
Other Types of Cancer
Apart from liver cancer, people with untreated Hep C or hepatitis C are at a higher risk of getting non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma is a type of cancer of the immune system. Untreated HCV also increases the chances of getting cancer of the bile duct.
Cardiovascular Problems Caused by Untreated Hep C
Untreated hepatitis C is known to cause hardening of the arteries, a condition known as atherosclerosis. This condition increases the risk of getting a heart attack, stroke and other related heart problems.
Mental Health Issues Due to Untreated Hep C
Untreated hepatitis C can have an impact on your mental health in the long term. Untreated hep C may lead to you having a hard time remembering things or have a hard time concentrating or focusing. You may also feel tired very quickly due to untreated hepatitis C.
Although the treatment of hep C has been a lengthy and painful process historically, today the treatment process has improved drastically. Current hepatitis C treatment involves effective drug therapies that are easy to undergo. If you suspect you might have been exposed to the Hep C or hepatitis C virus, then you should consult your doctor and get diagnosed at the earliest so that your hepatitis C treatment can begin immediately.