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Hepatitis C poses a serious risk of becoming a 'silent epidemic'
On World Hepatitis Day, to be observed tomorrow, awareness needs to be generated about the correlation between Hepatitis C virus and increased risk of a heart attack.
With 130 to 150 million people suffering globally from chronic Hepatitis C, the disease poses a serious risk of becoming a 'silent epidemic'. Hepatitis is a medical condition which causes an inflammation of the liver.

However, Hepatitis C infection is associated with several extrahepatic manifestations and affects other organs like the skin, kidney, brain and heart. It has been proven that Hepatitis C can be an important risk factor for coronary artery disease (CAD) in the long run.

There are five viruses that can cause hepatitis - A, B, C, D, E, and G out of which the most common are Hepatitis B and C. Hepatitis C Virus (HCV) can cause both acute and chronic infection. Acute HCV infection is usually asymptomatic in nature and thus does not get detected easily. In most of the cases, a patient is diagnosed with the condition only when the disease has become chronic causing several complications.

Commenting on this, Dr. Amar Singhal, Head of Cardiology, Action Heart Institute, Sri Balaji Action Medical Institute said in a statement, "According to the WHO, 15 to 45% of the people infected with Hepatitis C get cured on their own within 6 months without any treatment. 55–85% people on the other hand go on to develop chronic Hepatitis C infection. Such patients suffer from abnormally high levels of homocysteine in the blood, a risk factor for the development of Coronary heart disease. Research shows that the Hepatitis C Virus (HCV) can cause a 1.759-fold higher risk to ischemic ECG when compared with non-HCV subjects. We have also seen that patients affected with the Hepatitis C virus have a significantly higher rate of systolic dysfunction. This implies that their ventricular functioning has been compromised. The HCV is also responsible for gradually stiffening the arteries thereby increasing the chances of heart attacks. When a person is diagnosed with Hepatitis C, the first thing that people think of is the harm that it causes to the liver. However, on World Hepatitis Day, I would like to emphasise that it is important to take a holistic view and also be aware of the lesser known effects of Hepatitis and take necessary precautions."

Adding to this, Dr. Bharat Bhushan Chanana, Head of Department, Interventional Cardiology, Maharaja Agrasen Hospital, said in the release, "Over 1 lakh people are diagnosed with Hepatitis C each year in India. It is estimated that 1 in every hundred persons has been infected by Hepatitis C virus (HCV). The reason for the high disease burden is the fact that Hepatitis C does not have any recognizable symptoms and there exists a low awareness about the disease in the public. Even those who are aware about Hepatitis rarely understand the seriousness of the damage that it can cause not just the liver but also the heart. Hepatitis C patients have an approximately 25 percent higher risk of coronary heart disease that those who don't. There are several reasons for this elevated cardiovascular risk including the increased inflammation, immune activation and blood clotting in people with Hepatitis C. It is important that timely diagnosis and treatment is provided to patients suffering from Hepatitis C and cardiovascular risk is eliminated at the very onset".

While treating patients suffering from Hepatitis C, the medical fraternity needs to be vigilant and detect any abnormalities in the functioning of the heart in the first stage itself. They need to educate the patients about the possible correlation between Hepatitis and heart disease from the very onset so that precautionary measures can be taken. Hepatitis C patients with a history of heart disease must notify their doctor since they will need special care and treatment.

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