You’ll agree with me that as you grow older, your body’s defense mechanism becomes weak and this is why a lot of older adults easily contract hepatitis C (Hep C) or any other disease out there.
The rate at which Hep C is infecting the elderly is alarming. There are 3.9 million people in the United States with Hep C and the majority of those individuals are senior citizens.
As a senior citizen, you need to know if you’re at risk of catching Hep C and with the power of the internet, information is closer to us now than ever.
In this article, we’ll be concentrating on what Hep C is all about, its many symptoms and how it can be treated.
What is Hepatitis C?
Hep C is a disease that attacks the liver and can lead to severe liver damage. It is caused by the Hep C virus and is transmitted through the body fluids or blood of an infected person.
Those who share blades, needles and other sharp objects are at a higher risk of catching Hep C.
An estimated 3.9 million people are living with the disease in the U.S. and the most horrible part is that most people living with the disease don’t know they have it because the symptoms can be hidden.
Hep C comes in various stages and the most popular one in the United State is type 1. However, the virus affects people differently and also responds to treatment differently.
Stages of Hep C
Here are the various stages of Hep C as it progresses.
The incubation period is the time frame between when you get exposed to the disease and when you catch the disease. It can take between 14 to 80 days before you get the acute hepatitis stage.
Acute Hep C
In this stage, the virus begins to affect its host as the host falls ill for about 6 months. For most people who have contracted the disease, their immune system will fight it off.
However, for others who don’t have a strong immune system, they’ll enter the chronic acute Hep C stage.
Chronic Hepatitis C
For those living with the virus for more than 6 months, they now have chronic Hep C infection which can lead to severe health complications such as cirrhosis or liver cancer.
Cirrhosis is a stage of liver damage where the liver becomes inflamed and scarred by hepatitis. Bear in mind that this takes between 20 to 30 years before it happens and the damage can happen faster if the carrier is a chronic alcohol consumer or has HIV.
From cirrhosis, it progresses into cancer of the liver. Hepatitis C can also lead to the following.
- Liver cancer
- Skin cancer
- Cardiovascular disease
- Pancreatic cancer
- Bile duct cancer
- Kidney disease
- Neuropsychological impairment
- Neurocognitive impairment
Early Symptoms of Hepatitis C
Hep C is a silent killer that doesn’t always give off signs of its presence and in most cases, the virus goes away on its own.
However, a majority of those infected with the disease live with it for the long term. Most people who have the virus don’t display any type of symptoms for years.
To know what symptoms to watch out for, pay attention to the following signs that become visible within 2 weeks and 6 months of catching the virus.
- Sore muscles
- Itchy skin
- Joint pain
- Digestive distress
- Dark brownish or Yellow urine
Nonetheless, seniors who contracted the disease many years ago may not remember when they experienced the above symptoms.
Furthermore, most carriers in the acute stage can migrate to the Chronic stage without giving off any symptoms or signs that they have the illness.
Those in the cirrhosis stage will experience the following.
- Weight loss
- Severe jaundice
- Extreme itching
- Fluid within the abdomen
- Brain fog
- Abdominal pain
Why are Symptoms Difficult to Notice?
The problem here is that most seniors are already experiencing some of the symptoms listed above due to old age and poor health.
For instance, some senior citizens are usually tired, experience weight loss and have trouble thinking so they may have Hep C but think it’s their old age that’s catching up with them.
The bitter truth
The best way to find out if you’ve contracted hepatitis C is to get yourself screened. An antibody test will reveal if you’ve ever had hepatitis.
If your test returns a negative result, it proves that you have not been exposed to the Hep C virus.
If you return a positive result, it doesn’t mean you have the virus; it could also mean that you’ve had it in the past because there will be leftover Hep C antibodies in your system even after it has cleared.
So the best thing to do when you return a positive result is to do more testing to know if you currently have the virus.
However, in the future, if you have reason to believe that you’ve been exposed to Hep C, you can get tested again to know your status.
How can Hepatitis C be Treated?
Presently, there are no vaccines to prevent Hep C; however, you need to contact your doctor to recommend the best cause of action for you because the type of medication you’ll use and its duration is dependent on the genotype of the Hep C virus that you have.
Aside from medications, a change to your lifestyle can improve your quality of life. Seniors living with Hep C should do the following;
- Stop consuming alcohol
- Eat more fruits and vegetables
- Stay away from sugar and fat
- Eat more proteins
- Exercise regularly
Hepatitis C is a silent killer that leaves no warning signs. So if you feel you’ve exposed yourself to a potentially risky situation, you must get screened to know your status.