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What Should You Do If You Test Positive for Hepatitis C?
Just because you test positive for hepatitis C does not mean you need to begin treatment right away.
By Dr. Sanjay Gupta
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Sanjay Gupta, MD, Everyday Health:Most people who have hepatitis C don’t know it. But the consequences if you ignore this virus can be terrible. So the CDC is now recommending that every baby boomer get tested. That’s everyone born between 1945 and 1965, even if you feel fine. So what do you do if you learn you are infected? I asked Dr. Douglas Dieterich of Mount Sinai Hospital in New York. He’s a leading expert on hepatitis C.
Douglas Dieterich, MD, The Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai:Well, the first thing that the CDC says if you test positive for hepatitis C is you should stop drinking alcohol. And then number two is you should see a doctor who specializes in treating liver disease, either a gastroenterologist or a hepatologist, who is a liver specialist. One thing is to avoid is actually getting fat, you know, weight gain. Gaining weight or having high blood sugars, early diabetes, can cause fatty liver, which makes the hepatitis C much worse.
Dr. Gupta:What about things like Tylenol?
Dr. Dieterich:Tylenol is actually is a big problem in overdoses, but two to three grams of Tylenol a day, as long as you are eating normally, is probably fine for your liver.
Dr. Gupta:If this goes untreated, what is the progression of events? What is the progression of the disease?
Dr. Dieterich:It's relatively slow until you get near the end. It’s sort of an exponential curve. Nothing happens until you get to be age 50 or 60, and then the disease takes off and it starts to really damage your liver. Sometimes they will see fluid in their abdomen, swelling in their feet, obviously the yellow eyes, the jaundice. They can get confused. It's called the hepatic encephalopathy, like an overdose of Valium, and they have more car accidents if that happens. They can get liver cancer, which is actually the fastest growing cancer in the U.S. nowadays is liver cancer, and that’s mostly due to hepatitis C.
Dr. Gupta:Is there a point where it's too late to get treatment?
Dr. Dieterich:Yeah, there is. That’s the worse job I ever have to do, you know, is go to a bedside and say, you know, it's really too late, there is nothing we can do now. All-cause mortality. All-cause, so from anything: diabetes, hypertension, cholesterol, heart attack, stroke. All-cause mortality is doubled or tripled if you have hepatitis C. And if we intervene, we can actually change that mortality.
Dr. Gupta:If you’re infected but you have not developed symptoms, you may not need to begin treatment for hepatitis C right away. You and your doctor should decide when is the right time.
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