Fact or Fiction—Fatigue and Quality of Life with Hepatitis C
Hepatitis C, caused by the Hepatitis C virus or HCV, is a chronic viral infection that primarily affects the liver. The disease can be spread via contact with the blood of those who are suffering from the Hepatitis C virus; this includes transmission via infected needles and syringes, sexual contact without using a condom, and getting a tattoo or body piercing done when the needle could be infected. People who are more susceptible to infection include those who have had transplants, healthcare workers who are regularly in contact with blood samples, and the unborn child of an infected pregnant mother. However, it does not spread through casual contact, such as holding hands, sneezing, or coughing.
Hepatitis C and its risk
Since there aren’t any visible symptoms in those who have recently been infected by the virus, it often goes unnoticed and can become a chronic condition from an acute infection. People suffering from chronic Hepatitis C are at risk for developing cirrhosis, which is scarring of the liver, as well as liver cancer. Once infected, the virus can be confirmed via a blood test; subsequent tests are also carried out to determine damage to the liver. Treatment to rid the body of the virus and minimize damage to the liver is followed post-infection. With the lack of a vaccine for the Hepatitis C virus, one needs to exercise caution to prevent contracting the virus. It is better to be safe than sorry, since once infected, the chronic infection adversely affects the health-related quality of life of patients.
Fatigue and quality of life of HCV patients
It is a known fact that there are profound health-related effects on the quality of life of those undergoing treatment for Hepatitis C, with fatigue being the most predominant. Apart from fatigue and flu-like symptoms, other adverse effects include depression, muscle aches, and neurocognitive deficits. The neurocognitive deficits include changes in the patient’s neurotransmitter levels, specifically in the frontal white matter of the brain, which is correlated with reduced concentration and attention. The chronic condition is even found to be associated with sexual dysfunction along with depression. The other symptoms affecting quality of life include mental tiredness, sleep problems, poor appetite, malaise, physical tiredness with reduced vitality, abdominal pain, reduced cognitive functioning, and gastrointestinal problems. The rate of psychiatric disorders especially was found to be much higher in Hepatitis C patients compared to the general population. All of these symptoms were evaluated in association with psychopathological, sociodemographic, and psychiatric factors and were found to affect the social and economic quality of life along with health. Many case studies have even suggested that the treatment itself brought upon the impaired health-related quality of life.
Numerous studies and reviews in different parts of the world, including rural as well as urban areas, confirm the observation that the health-related quality of life of those suffering from chronic Hepatitis C virus infection is adversely affected compared to the normal population. Most prominently, symptoms of fatigue are found in patients. Thus it could be concluded that fatigue and other symptoms as well as subsequent treatment impair the patient’s ability to function in society.
Since 2001, Dr. Alexander G. Salerno has led Salerno Medical Associates in East Orange, New Jersey. Dr. Alexander Salerno focuses largely on urban communities and on delivering patient education about both medical and behavioral health issues.