The damage that hepatitis C does to the liver is something that everyone who contracts it will experience. Beyond that there are a lot of things that can be different from person to person and even from one gender to another. We are going to take some time in this article to look at a few ways hepatitis C affects women specifically. Some of these facts you may already know and some may even be surprising. If you have some of your own facts or would like to share your experiences please comment below or send us an email!
- Women are more likely to “clear” hepatitis C than men. This means that women’s immune systems not only fight off hepatitis C more often than men but that they will cure themselves twice as often! This is pretty amazing. We don’t exactly know why this happens but it’s definitely something that is unique to women who are exposed to hepatitis C.
- Maybe you knew that women cure themselves of hepatitis C twice as often as men. I bet you didn’t know that hepatitis C progresses more slowly in women than men! It’s true, not only do women fend off hepatitis C twice as often as men, they are able to wrangle it in with the lasso of their immune system and slow it down to a cool country pace if they do contract it. Now that’s what I call pretty impressive.
- If you’re as smart as I know you are, you’ve likely guessed that women are less likely to die from hepatitis C than men. This makes a lot of sense after reading the first two facts. More likely to fight off hepatitis C + hepatitis C progressing more slowly = less likelihood that women will die from hepatitis C related complications. Things like alcohol and substances can accelerate the progression of hepatitis C. This is important because alcohol especially affects women more so than men. The number of drinks that women can have before the liver becomes damaged are fewer than men and this is an important thing to keep in mind! The reason for this is because even though damage to a women’s liver progresses more slowly while living with hepatitis C, consuming alcohol can accelerate that process. Always do what you can to help your body out and stay healthy!
- Pregnancy is often filled with nervousness and excitement. A hepatitis C diagnosis can add negative emotions or fear during a time that should be filled with celebration. Transmission of hepatitis C from mother to child is called vertical transmission. This happens at a rate of 4-6% and although it’s rare being aware of your status before and during pregnancy is really important! If you have always wanted children and you find yourself with a hepatitis C diagnosis don’t think that you suddenly can’t fulfill those dreams, because you can! Make sure to talk with your doctor about treatment and any concerns you may have. They’ll help guide you through the process so that both you and your baby will be healthy, safe and happy!
- I think many people experience stigma in some way or another. Whether it’s because of our skin color, gender, sexual identity, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, country of origin or simply our beliefs. Illness and disease are often ways that people stigmatize others and hepatitis C is no exception. For pregnant women, or women of childbearing age, this stigma can be more biting because many people associate hepatitis C transmission with injection drug use. In my experience this leads to people labeling women as “bad mothers” or “irresponsible” and leads to less women being open and asking for a hepatitis C test because they are afraid of what will happen. If you’ve ever had an experience like this I want you to know that not everyone sees you that way or will treat you that way. There are a lot of great doctors, healthcare providers and community healthcare workers that are only interested in improving your mental, emotional and physical health. If you ever feel like you can’t be open and honest with your doctor about your health, or wanting a test, then you owe it to yourself to find one with whom you can. And always remember, you can beat this, you’re literally designed to fight hepatitis C better than most!
If you’ve been told that you have hepatitis C, successfully been cured or are afraid you have it then you either knew this information or find it comforting. Or maybe you just find it interesting and useful! If you want to learn more about hepatitis C and women check out these three great resources on the HCV Advocate website written by Lucinda K. Porter!
Matthew Zielske is the Training Manager for the Hepatitis C Support Project’s Train-the-Trainer workshop. He has a Master’s in Communication with a focus on health communication and health literacy. You can read his blog at www.umbrellaway.org
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