Hepatitis C Patient Advocate, Navigator or Health Advocate
The concept of patient advocacy in its current form was developed in 1950’s as the treatment of patients grew more and more technically complicated, as a means to make the voice of the patient more readily heard. In today’s world of constantly evolving medical techniques, treatments, and services, the average individual cannot be expected to be thoroughly acquainted with any and all this material. So it becomes the function of the Hepatitis C patient advocate to perform a variety of services to ease the burden of the patient, and their family, as they learn to deal with every aspect of the disease.
The primary concern of the Hepatitis C advocate is the support of the patient in all aspects of life with the disease, whether they be physical, emotional, or financial. An advocate can assist the patient in investigating available treatment options and educating the patient on the efficacy of each of them, be it pharmacological or surgical. By educating the patient, the advocate can be of great assistance in helping them make an informed decision about their course of action, and the possible side effects and outcomes. Support may also involve recommending counseling services for the patient, and their family members, to help them cope from day to day. Hepatitis C patient advocates may also be of assistance in helping the patient, and their caregivers, deal with any physical debilitation resulting from the disease, and its treatment.
Another aspect of Hepatitis C patient advocacy is assistance in navigating the financial aspects of treating the disease. An advocate can act as a liaison between the patient and his or her insurance company, assuring that the patient receives any and all benefits to which they are entitled. When one is dealing with a serious disease, it is quite easy to lose track of other aspects of your life. An advocate can help to seek out sources of assistance which can ease the financial burden of the patient.
Education is also a major function of a health advocate. Both the patient, and their caregivers, are often in need of information about how the disease will affect their lives, both during its progression, and in its aftermath. Patients must be informed about how their condition will affect their mobility, the ability to care for themselves, and if they will be left with any permanent impairment to their lifestyle. Caregivers need to be instructed in mechanisms, or techniques they must use to cope with the patient’s daily care, such as injections, proper care of surgical dressings, etc.
The patient, above everything else, needs to know that there is someone in their corner. Someone who will help them find their way through the confusing, and sometimes daunting, world of modern medicine. Someone who will have their best interests in mind as they face challenges presented every day in their struggle to find, secure, and finance the best treatment available.
What is Hepatitis C?
Hepatitis C virus infection (HCV) is one of the many viral infections that affect the liver. The other common infections in this category are hepatitis A virus (HAV) and Hepatitis B virus (HBV). Others not so common ones are Hepatitis D, E and G. Unlike hepatitis A, hepatitis C is more likely to take a chronic trend that can eventually lead to liver cirrhosis and cancer.
Symptoms of Hepatitis C
By the time symptoms start showing, the infection has been in the body for a while. The liver is one of the most versatile organs in the body and this is probably the reason there is that symptomless period as it tries to contain the viral assault. When finally symptoms of the uncomplicated disease appear they include:
- Loss of appetite.
- Generalized tiredness.
- Body hotness.
- Abdominal discomfort and digestive problems.
- There may be other non-specific symptoms.
- Jaundice, yellowness of the eyes may be present although it is rare at this stage.
Later when the disease has destroyed more liver tissues and fibrosis (cirrhosis) is setting in, the symptoms may include:
- Loss of weight due to, partly, persistent loss of appetite.
- Dark and reddish urine.
- Progressive weakness.
- Breast enlargement (males) gynecomastia.
- Bleeding disorder.
- Abdominal swelling with or without a palpable mass in the right lower edge of the ribcage.
- Rash on the palms
- Small vessels running under the skin like a spider’s web – spider angiomas.
- Edema of the legs.
- As a bigger percentage of the liver gets destroyed signs of liver failure will set in. they may include, confusion, dizziness, fainting, convulsions and even coma.
- Abdominal distension and fluid in the abdominal cavity – ascites.
- Heart complications.
- Jaundice is common at this stage.
- A small but significant number of people develop cancer at the last stages of the disease which can be years after exposure to the virus.
Cause and Risk Factors of Hepatitis C
The disease is caused by a virus that thrives in the blood. It is transmitted from one person to another through contact with open wounds, pricks or through contamination with blood or other body fluids. Risk factors include:
- Prick from a contaminated needle.
- Sexual contact with an infected person.
- Contact with contaminated blood or body fluids.
- Transfusing infected blood and blood products.
- Mother to child infection at delivery.
- Medical procedures like dialysis.
- Cosmetic procedures like tattoos.
Diagnosis of Hepatitis C
After the initial complains, your doctor will suspect the infection. He will take a thorough history of the illness and your past in an attempt to establish any risk factors that you could have been exposed to. Then he will carry out a thorough physical examination on you.
The next step is to carry out certain laboratory tests to establish whether the virus is present or not and if present, the subtype of the virus. This is important to come up with an effective treatment. Other tests include:
- Viral load of the virus in your body.
- Antibody tests that prove you have been exposed to the virus.
- Liver biopsy.
- Other tests may be done to rule out other conditions the doctor may be suspecting.
Treatment of Hepatitis C
Depending on the stage of the illness, treatment can include palliative management as per specific symptoms. Specific management includes:
- Medications like Ribavin, Boceprevir, Simeprevir and Sofosbuvir.
- Liver transplant.
- Vaccinations to those at risk.
More effective treatment is achieved with combining a number of drugs.
U.S Statistics of Hepatitis C Infection
About 3.2 million Americans are living with the disease.
The number of reported cases is about 1/13th of the actual estimated cases.
In 2013 about 39400 deaths were reported in relation to the HCV infection. Again, this is a fraction of the estimated actual deaths.
15-25 per cent of patients can completely heal from the infection while the rest progress to chronic states.