The Natural Way

Wednesday, February 6, 2002

Hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver. There are several types of hepatitis, all caused by different irritants.

For example, overdosing on certain chemicals such as acetaminophen and/or alcohol can be one cause, just as having your own immune system attack your liver can be another. Most people think of viral infections such as A, B or C. While this typing is growing perhaps now all the way out to F and G, I'll be writing about Hepatitis C.

Many people have been exposed to the C virus. These exposures could have been long ago and not even known. C is a long-lived virus which causes chronic liver disease in most people and, in the unlucky or imprudent few, liver failure. There are relatively few people who go on to have liver failure, but infection with C is the current major cause of liver transplantation in our country. Fortunately, with some lifestyle changes and proper care, Hepatitis C doesn't have to be feared, merely respected.

How do people get exposed to Hep C? Many never know how it happened. What medicine and science know is this one seems to be blood borne. For instance, health care workers like your lab technician or nurse might accidentally stick themselves with a used needle or a housewife may have had a blood transfusion back in the '70s or '80s.

Sometimes there was a period in a person's life when I.V. drugs were used. These are all typical ways of having the C virus enter your body and your life. Fortunately, it is nearly impossible to be exposed through casual or sexual contact.

How do people find out if they have been exposed? Usually by accident. A shocking way to find out is to have blood work done to get a new life insurance policy. Life Insurance companies check for a number of things in that sample of blood you give them, one of which is whether liver markers are elevated in the test results. These markers are ALT and AST.

When the levels are above normal the insurance company may do further testing to see if there is the presence of antibodies to Hepatitis C. Many times, the applicant is turned down "because something was found in the blood." This is scary, as the insurance company may not tell you more. A visit to your doctor's office would be the next step to find out just what is going on.

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