FAQ-Your immune system
In The News
February 10 2014
Newly found tactics in offense-defense struggle with hepatitis C virus
"This is a previously unknown strategy by which HCV evades the immune system and suggests that these microRNAs could be therapeutic targets for restoring the host antiviral response," the researchers wrote in their paper.
CNIO scientists decipher how the immune system induces liver damage during hepatitis
Meet the immune system
When the body is infected with the hepatitis C virus (HCV)
Tina M. St. John, MD
Source - Caring Ambassadors Hepatitis C Choices: 4th
The immune system is the body’s defense against infections. Think of the immune system as the body’s army, protecting it from invaders. Just as the army has soldiers trained to perform different jobs, the immune system also has many types of cells performing different jobs. The cells of the immune system circulate through every tissue of the body.
When the body is infected with the hepatitis C virus ( HCV ), the immune system swings into action. The immune systems of approximately 15% to 45% of people infected with HCV are able to rid their bodies of the virus. This is called spontaneous clearance
However, 55% to 85% of people infected with HCV are unable to clear the virus and become chronically infected.
In immunology terms, chronic infection is called “persistence.”
Among those who are chronically infected, the immune system appears to have a role in the rate of disease progression and liver damage caused by HCV. Therefore, the interaction between the hepatitis C virus and the immune system is at the core of HCV disease and its treatment.
This chapter provides a brief introduction to the immune system, and how it relates to chronic hepatitis C. At first glance, the concepts in this chapter may seem very
complex. Many of the terms are likely to be new to you. However, reading this information may help you better understand some of the logic behind current hepatitis C treatment and research.
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Getting a Handle on Stress and Hepatitis C
By Nina L. Paul, PhD from Living With Hepatitis C For
One way of defining stress is the body's response to a change or challenge. The change or challenge that causes the stress is called a stressor, which could be anything from the freezing temperature outside, to a new medicine you're taking, to an attack dog that's charging after you!
Acute versus chronic stress
During the stress response, energy is diverted from your
immune, digestive, and reproductive systems and focused on giving you a supreme burst of energy.
The body is designed to deal with short-term (acute) stress. When a stressor first arrives — in the form of an attack dog, for example — your body takes most of its energy reserves to fight or help you run like the devil to save your life. When the dog is gone, your body returns to normal because you no longer need the extra energy diverted to save your life.
In modern times, we have a lot of long-term (chronic) stress. These are challenges that don't go away and keep us stressed out for long periods of time. These stressors can range from a difficult boss or financial worries to a long-term chronic illness, like hepatitis C. This fight-or-flight biological response was well suited to the precarious lives of cave dwellers and their many physical threats.
The problem with long-term stress is that your body doesn't get to go back to a nonstressed state. In modern times, when mundane things like traffic jams and deadlines trigger stress, it's not so useful to lose precious energy in response
to these almost-constant stressors. When you have hepatitis C, the last thing you want is for energy to be taken away from your immune system.
A healthy body is in an exquisite state of balance called homeostasis. Any disruption to your body from an injury or an illness causes physical stress. The hepatitis C virus causes physical stress just by being a foreigner in your
body and making your immune system go into attack mode.
Likewise, to keep its balance, your body needs proper amounts and types of nutrition, rest, movement, fresh air, and warmth. Too much of anything (including food, exercise, and heat) and the wrong types of things (such as
polluted air, junk food, and dangerous drugs) also cause stress.
If a physical stress is short term — like missing some sleep on exam night or having an occasional ice cream — the body can usually recover. But with long-term physical stress, like not sleeping for weeks or smoking cigarettes for
years, the body has a more difficult time regaining its balance.
Emotional and mental stress
Much of our modern stress comes from mental and emotional anxiety. Pressures and worries to get to work on time, make deadlines, pay bills, get your kids into college, and so on can trigger an emotional stress response. With hep C, you probably have worries related to one or more of the following things:
•Sexual interest or ability (due to hepatitis C or
•Work hours, job conditions, or the job itself
•Lifestyle (diet, alcohol consumption, smoking)
Emotional stress is a funny thing because any type of change, even good change, can be stressful. Think of the stress that can accompany the first year of marriage or bringing home a new baby!
Linking stress and illness
Illness is a major challenge to the normal workings of your body and causes stress in different ways. The physical aspects of the stress caused by hep C are pretty straightforward and include the interaction among the following:
•The hepatitis C virus: The virus is growing and making proteins inside your body, which affects your immune system, your liver cells, and other parts of your body.
•The immune system: Your immune system is now in attack mode because it senses danger from the hep C virus.
•Your liver: The liver has trouble doing its job when the war between the hep C virus and the immune system is being fought in its midst.
These physical components of hepatitis C virus infection interact with the emotional aspects of stress. Anxiety, fatigue, and depression are common emotional components of hepatitis C.
Because stress hormones affect the brain and the body,
stress affects your mind and your body. Whether you have physical or emotional stress, remember that stress of one type can add to the stress of another type, so stress itself is stressful! It's a two-way street: Physical stress can lead
to emotional stress, and emotional stress can lead to physical stress. And both play a role in lessening your body's ability to protect itself against hep C.
Reducing stress — one way or another
Stress is so pervasive in modern life and potentially harmful — even more so for folks with a chronic illness like hep C. The good news is that there are lots of ways to deal with stress and diminish its effects on your health and
your life in general.
The key to keeping stress from hurting you is in your
reaction to it. Practice some of these techniques, and you'll be humming or giggling instead of stressing out.
Taking care of body basics
You can start fighting stress by taking care of your body through three basic measures: exercise; regular, nutritious meals; and plenty of quality sleep.
Keeping the physical body in good shape gives you more resilience to deal with stress. Remember to avoid physical stressors like breathing polluted air, smoking cigarettes, taking street drugs, and drinking alcohol).
Respecting your limits and needs
An important part of emotional stress is the feeling of not having control over your life. You may feel that having hepatitis C has put you on a roller coaster that you don't know how to stop. Here are some ways to bring back some
of your personal power:
•Say no. One of the easiest ways to get stressed is to take on too many tasks. Recognize your limits and accept them.
•Ask for help. Don't be afraid to ask for help. Ask your family and friends, social service workers, doctors, fellow
support group members, and neighbors for help when you need it.
•Get information. The more you know about your options with hep C, the more empowered and less stressed you'll feel.
Enjoying life If you're not feeling well, you may forget to do the things you love. Remember the pleasures of life, which can distract you from your pain and may even make you feel better.
•Listen to music. Music therapy can bring you some joy. Find a CD or radio station that plays music that soothes you, whether it's jazz, classical, or folk. Other types of sounds, such as waves, sometimes also have a calming
•Engage your creative side. Everyone has creativity waiting to be expressed. Lose yourself in drawing, taking photographs, or sewing a piece of patchwork. Or maybe you enjoy dancing, playing the piano, cooking a meal, or
arranging a few flowers in a vase.
•Connect with nature. Try to experience nature. Whether it's the beach, a forest, or the mountains, get outdoors and
breathe some fresh air. Or simply go to your backyard or a local park and notice the different types of trees and flowers
•Focus on spirituality. Whether you belong to an organized religion or you have your own way of expressing the
divine, find a way to bring the sacred to your everyday life: Light a candle; say the prayers of your particular faith; make up your own prayers; or take time for meditation.
•Play with your pets. Research has shown that spending time with your furry friends helps reduce stress. They're less stressed than humans are, so they can help you relax, especially when they start purring or wagging their tails.
•Spend time with family and friends. In today's world, it's easy to isolate yourself or get too busy to keep in touch with others. But calling an old friend or inviting a family member to dinner can give you a real pick-me-up.
•Find humor: Laughter is a known healer. Find a funny movie or interact with pets or children who have a sense of humor.