What Women Should Know About Hepatitis C

The HealthCentral Editorial Team | July 30, 2014 Aug 30, 2003

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Cirrhosis

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According to a study published in the journal Hepatology, women are less likely to develop cirrhosis of the liver, compared to men. Researchers suggest that the hormone estrogen protects women from liver damage, which in turn protects from cirrhosis. The protection may diminish after menopause, when women produce less estrogen.

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Intravenous drug use

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A study published a decade ago in the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases, found that women are more likely to share needles or start using intravenous drugs with a sexual partner than men are with their sexual partners. Intravenous drug use is the most common form of transmission of the hepatitis C virus.

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Virus clearance

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Between 15 to 20 percent of people who get hepatitis C are able to clear the virus from their body without treatment before it becomes a chronic infection. A 2014 study published in the journal Hepatology found that women are more likely than men to have spontaneous clearance of the virus. Researchers suspect that estrogen may play a role here, too.

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Transmission via menstruation

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The risk for transmission of hepatitis C through sexual contact is very low, but, like HIV, the risk increases with activity that may cause more blood exposure, such as anal sex. But, another way that increases risk of exposure is intercourse with an infected woman who is menstruating.

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C-sections from over 20 years ago

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Prior to 1992, when screening of the U.S. blood supply began, many women who had Cesarean deliveries received blood transfusions, and may have been infected with hepatitis C. Since the disease can be asymptomatic for decades, many women don’t even know they have the virus. Experts suggest that women who had a C-section before 1992 be tested for hepatitis C.

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Oral contraception

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Oral contraception pills, which contain estrogen, are generally safe for women with hepatitis C, as is hormone replacement therapy for menopausal women. But, estrogen-containing pills are not considered safe for women with severe liver disease, as the liver may not be able to break down these hormones anymore.