Hepatitis C is a liver disease resulting from an infection with the hepatitis C virus (HCV). There are two types of hepatitis C: acute and chronic.

About 20 percent of people who become infected with HCV will clear it from their bodies without treatment. This is known as acute hepatitis C. In 2014, there were about 30,000 cases of acute hepatitis C in the United States.

The majority of people who become infected with HCV go on to develop chronic hepatitis C. Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests that an estimated 3 to 4 million Americans are living with chronic hepatitis C.

Researchers still aren’t sure why the virus is short-lived in some people and becomes chronic in others.

Living with hepatitis C poses a unique set of challenges, and your doctor is your best resource for information about your condition. They can help guide you through your treatment options and advise you on ways to prevent transmission.

Here are a few things to consider:

How to prevent transmission

Hepatitis C can be spread if a person who doesn’t have HCV comes into contact with the blood of someone who has HCV. Although coming into contact with infected blood does pose a risk, the virus can only be spread if the infected blood enters their body through a cut or orifice.

HCV is primarily spread through the shared use of needles or other equipment that’s used to inject illicit substances.

If you have HCV, you shouldn’t share any materials that have potentially come into contact with your blood. These include:

  • needles
  • razors
  • fingernail clippers
  • toothbrushes

Transmission of the virus through monogamous heterosexual contact is rare, but possible. If you carry the virus, you should tell your partner and talk with your doctor about any precautions you should take to reduce the risk of transmission.

You can reduce your risk of sexual transmission by:

  • using barrier protection, such as condoms or dental dams
  • ensuring that barrier protection is used correctly and consistently
  • practicing monogamy
  • not participating in rough sex, which can result in broken skin or bleeding

If you are pregnant and have hepatitis C, you could transmit the virus to your baby during childbirth. Talk with your doctor about what you can do to increase the odds of a safe delivery. If you’re pregnant and not sure whether you carry the virus, get tested right away.

You should also understand that the chances of transmitting hepatitis C through casual contact at home or in the workplace are low.

For example, you can’t spread the disease by:

  • kissing
  • hugging
  • coughing
  • sneezing
  • sharing a drink or eating utensils

One of the main concerns for anyone with hepatitis C is cirrhosis, or scarring of liver tissue. This is because the virus can cause inflammation in the liver.

When liver tissue becomes inflamed, the tissue tries to repair itself. This leads to scar tissue forming in the liver. The more scar tissue that is present, the harder it is for the liver to function effectively.

It’s thought that up to 20 percent of people with hepatitis C will develop cirrhosis within 20 to 30 years of infection.

You can help reduce your risk by:

  • avoiding alcohol, as it can limit your liver’s ability to remove toxins from your body
  • consulting with your doctor before taking prescription and over-the-counter medications and supplements as these can sometimes injure the liver
  • following a healthy diet rich in vegetables, fruits, and whole grains
  • controlling your cholesterol and blood sugar
  • getting at least 30 minutes of exercise per day
  • getting vaccinated against hepatitis A and hepatitis B

Talk to your doctor about the hepatitis C treatment options available to you, as well as how you can reduce your risk for cirrhosis. It’s important to seek treatment as soon as possible.

If significant liver damage occurs, medications may not be enough to help you. A liver transplant may be necessary.

There are several types of antiviral medications used to treat hepatitis C. Some treatments take as little as eight weeks, though most take longer to completely eradicate the virus. Your doctor can help you explore all your treatment options and determine the best therapy for you.

Once you start a care plan for hepatitis C, it’s critical that you see it through all the way. This means acknowledging that there may be side effects from your medications. Find out what to expect from your doctor and pharmacist before treatment begins.

You should know how to respond if you experience symptoms, such as:

  • loss of appetite
  • nausea
  • diarrhea
  • rashes
  • insomnia

It’s also important that you attend all your checkups and get your blood work done on schedule. Follow-up exams and screenings are the only way to be sure your treatment is working.

If your symptoms change or you develop new symptoms, let your doctor know. They may need to adjust your current treatment plan.

If you’re working with multiple care providers, it’s important to keep them all in the loop. Make sure they all know what medications you’re taking, your complete medical history, and any changes in your health.

Having hepatitis C presents you with some challenges. But with effective treatments and a greater public awareness of the disease, living with HCV is more manageable now than ever.

The key to maintaining your quality of life is working closely with your doctors and being willing to make the lifestyle changes necessary for better liver health. If you have any questions or concerns, talk with your doctor.

Enlisting the support of friends and family or other support systems may also help provide a brighter outlook.