World Hepatitis Day 2022: What you need to know about hepatitis C and digestive issues

World Hepatitis Day is observed every year on July 28 to raise awareness about hepatitis, which is a group of infectious diseases known as hepatitis A, B, C, D, and E.

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Hepatitis can be life threatening unless it is detected in a timely manner and there is good treatment available. On World Hepatitis Day, therefore, there is a push for more global awareness about the infection, its diagnosis, and how to prevent it, among other things.

Talking about hepatitis C, Dr Roy Patankar, gastroenterologist and director of Zen Multispecialty Hospital, Chembur, Mumbai, says it can lead to stomach woes and that there is a link between hepatitis and gastrointestinal problems.

“Many people with hepatitis will have abdominal discomfort and pain. Hepatitis C is a liver infection caused by the hepatitis C virus (HCV), spread via contact with blood from an infected person. It is known to induce gastrointestinal problems in some patients, and there are many who will be diagnosed with hepatitis C, but not showcase any signs of it. Hepatitis C is pre-cancerous and can also lead to cirrhosis; with no vaccine available, prevention is important,” he warns.

Hepatitis can be life threatening unless it is detected in a timely manner and there is good treatment available. (Photo: Getty/Thinkstock)

How does hepatitis take a toll on the digestive system?

It is a known fact that healthy functioning of the liver is essential for the overall functioning of the body. The organ produces bile — required to digest fats — which is then stored in the gallbladder and sent to the beginning section of the small intestine when needed.

Bile, the doctor explains, is combined with stomach acids and digestive fluids from the pancreas to help the intestines absorb nutrients into the bloodstream.

According to Dr Patankar, when one is infected with hepatitis C, it can impact the liver’s ability to produce bile, thereby making the digestion of fatty foods difficult.

“There can be abdominal discomfort. It becomes hard for the intestines to absorb nutrients from food when bile production is not proper. This can cause a pronounced loss of appetite, nausea, diarrhoea, and vomiting. Your bowel movements get brownish due to bile. If bile production is not proper, your stool may appear white or pale. This means the liver is not healthy. One may also experience weight loss,” the doctor explains.

The treatment

Dr Patankar says that to get relief from abdominal pain, one must treat hepatitis C with medications prescribed by a doctor. “Do not self-medicate. The stomach problems will resolve once you complete the course of treatment. Avoid spicy food, eat meals in smaller proportions, and avoid junk, spicy, oily, and canned food. Choose bland foods like bananas or rice,” he concludes.

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