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Although the world is filled with suffering, it is full also of the overcoming of it.
--Helen Keller, Optimism
If you are holding this book because you or someone you love has hepatitis C, you may be deeply frightened.
For a disease that didn't even have a name until ten years ago, hepatitis C has created a lot of anxiety. But the true picture of the disease is not nearly so bleak as it has been painted. There are many steps you can take to help yourself to a long, full life with hepatitis C, or even to a cure. This book is intended as your map on that journey.
The headlines may have already told you that Americans, still reeling from AIDS, are just beginning to realize that we are si-ting on an even greater viral time bomb--hepatitis C. The hepatitis C virus, or HCV, can cause serious disease of the liver. The virus enters the body through the blood and attacks the liver,
causing it to deteriorate over long periods, as long as ten to forty years. You have read that hepatitis C can cause cirrhosis and liver cancer; in fact, hepatitis C is already responsible for most liver transplants performed in this country. Ten thousand Americans have already died of HCV, and by 2000, more people will die of hepatitis C than will die of AIDS.
Unfortunately, the good news has gotten lost in all the terrifying articles about the "epidemic" of HCV. As opposed to the headline hyperbole, the real challenge of hepatitis C is not dying, but living--well--with the infection. Relatively few people-- 20 percent--develop life-threatening cirrhosis or liver cancer, the most-feared effects of hepatitis C. And even these can be treated. On the other hand, your chances of permanently ridding yourself of the virus with conventional medications that contain interferon are even lower--15 percent.
This means that if you are infected with the hepatitis C virus, you are not likely to die. During a conference on hepatitis C held by the Centers for Disease Control in 1998, Dr. Leonard B. Seef, a senior scientist with the National Institutes of Health, told the Arizona Republic, "I would guess that 80 percent of those infected are going to outlive their disease." He compiled a report demonstrating that fewer than half of patients with hepatitis C had significant liver disease, even twenty-four years after they were diagnosed with hepatitis C.
But until better treatments are developed, you are not likely to be cured, either. You are most likely to develop a chronic, very slowly progressing condition that you can learn to manage. You will have to contend with symptoms that can range from annoying to energy-sapping, but most of these problems are controllable if you understand the disorder and if you know what to do. Many of the disease's complications can be delayed, made milder, or even prevented by using the suggestions in this book.
Most people with hepatitis C can manage their condition with a combination of early diagnosis, timely medical treatment, and lifestyle changes.
The odds are heavily in your favor, so promise yourself that you will not become paralyzed by fear. Instead, become prepared. The difference between being incapacitated by pain and fear and living fully is, like so many things in life, a matter of knowledge and preparation.
Picking up this book is the first step in the right direction. This book will demystify everything about hepatitis C. It will show you how to decipher the alphabet soup of laboratory test results and tell you what does and does not put your friends, coworkers, and loved ones at risk for contracting the virus. This book will tell you exactly what to expect during the course of the illness
and exactly what you can do to change the course of the infection for the better. From this one book, you will learn about both cutting-edge conventional medicine for hepatitis C and about natural approaches that help you to live well with the disease.
You probably have a lot of questions, such as: How did I get HCV? What symptoms will I develop? When? Will I get worse? How quickly? How can I avoid infecting others? What do my test results mean? What treatments are available? Which should I choose? How can I maximize my chances of a cure? Failing that, how can I stay as healthy as possible? What alternative treatments work? What if I need a liver transplant? You may have already discovered that finding reliable answers is not easy.
This book will answer all these questions and many others. It offers you a scientifically accurate and detailed explanation of what medicine has to offer you--in plain, jargon-free English. This book also stresses the critical importance of recruiting a physician to be your health advocate. It tells you exactly how to select the best-qualified physician and other health-care providers.
But this volume offers you even more. It differs fundamentally from other books for people with hepatitis C in its unprecedented completeness. This book fills the large treatment vacuum left by conventional medical treatment by explaining what complementary therapies have to offer. It doesn't tell you only about blood tests, interferon, and liver transplants or only about diet, herbal approaches, and acupuncture. This book covers both conventional and alternative medical approaches for you in clear, easily understood language with a few uncomplicated tables and charts. In its pages you will find:
CUTTING-EDGE CONVENTIONAL INFORMATION. Interferon, the only effective conventional medication for hepatitis C, can retard liver damage but cures only about 15 percent of the people who try it. It is expensive and carries significant side effects such as fatigue and depression. This book offers up-to-the- minute information about conventional medical treatments, including daily interferon regimens, combination therapies such as pegylated interferon and ribavirin, protease inhibitors, genetic approaches, and partial-organ liver transplants. These phrases may be Greek to you now, but after reading Chapter 4 you will understand them all, as well as all your options for conventional hepatitis C treatment. Chapter 4 also describes treatments on the horizon, one of which may turn out to be the long-sought "magic bullet" that allows a more efficient cure.
ALTERNATIVES THAT WORK. Meanwhile, herbs, supplements, acupuncture, and other remedies can help alleviate the worst symptoms of hepatitis, such as fatigue, depression, swelling, pain, and other physical discomforts. Diet and nutrition, including supplements, are also very important in treating that key digestive organ, your liver. Rigorous medical studies suggest that some of these remedies can also address the underlying disease process, bolster the immune system, retard liver damage, and help to restore your blood-test values to within normal limits.
This book will tell you what works and what doesn't, with references to many controlled, peer-reviewed clinical studies in such publications as the Journal of the American Medical Association, Gastroenterology, and the New England Journal of Medicine. It will also show you how to evaluate the credentials of alternative practitioners and tell you which groups can direct
you to practitioners whom you can trust. This book also offers a selection of treatment plans that have worked for others and that you and your doctor can tailor to your needs. These incorporate a conventional medical approach with a variety of self-help and complementary medicine regimens.
THE MENTAL DIMENSION. You are more than a liver. In fact, you are more than just a body. The emotional, mental, and spiritual component of your fight against hepatitis C infection is equally important, and so this book approaches the person with hepatitis as a whole person with a spectrum of emotions triggered by the illness. This book illuminates the complex connections between hepatitis C, anger, and depression. More important, it tells you how to go about finding emotional and spiritual support that allows you to confront and conquer fear and anger. It gives practical advice on using exercise and a whole armamentarium of alternative therapies such as acupuncture, guided imagery, and prayer to reduce the stress and depression that so often accompany this disease.
Living with hepatitis C can be a lonely affair. Few people understand the disease, so it tends to be stereotyped as a "junkie's disease." (Many people simply don't realize that many infected people acquired the virus during blood transfusions or other medical procedures.) Support groups are an important remedy for this sense of misunderstanding and isolation. Such groups offer you emotional support, as well as tips for educating your loved ones.
The chapters of this book are also enriched by personal vignettes from people who are living with hepatitis C. More than forty people with hepatitis C generously shared their experiences, frustrations, and triumphs with me, and I have shared some of these with you. Their stories illustrate how they have confronted and dealt with some of the very symptoms and uncertainties that you can expect to face during the course of your illness.
From the Paperback edition.