Hepatitis C Signs and Symptoms

Hepatitis C is a viral infection spreads through contaminated blood.

The virus can cause liver inflammation, leading to severe liver damage.

In old times, treatment for Hepatitis C Virus (HCV) was complicated. This is people patients had to take weekly injections and daily oral medications. It was impossible for everyone to follow such strict regimens and accept the side effects.

However, medical science has significantly improved over the years. Chronic HCV is curable through oral medications within six months.

Early Signs of Acute Hepatitis C

Acute hepatitis C is the earliest phase of the virus. You will have symptoms similar to the flu.

These symptoms include

  • Fever

  • Fatigue

  • Nausea

  • Poor appetite

  • Vomiting

  • Besides, you will have some other symptoms as:

  • Stomach pain

  • Jaundice

  • Joint pain

  • Dark urine

Symptoms of Chronic Hepatitis C Virus

Chronic HCV happens when the virus has stayed in your system for a long term.

In this situation, the virus remains silent in your system for years, silently damaging the liver. However, when the damage grows to the extreme, you will start to see severe symptoms. This includes −

  • Fluid build-up in the abdomen

  • Weight loss

  • Spider angiomas (spider-like blood vessels on the skin)

  • Itchy skin

  • Easily bruised skin

  • Skin bleeds easily

  • Swelling in the legs

  • Hepatic encephalopathy. It can cause slurred speech, drowsiness, and confusion

Besides the above, you may also experience symptoms related to acute HCV.

Complications of long-term hepatitis C infection

Prolonged exposure to Hepatitis C can cause severe liver problems. This includes

Liver cirrhosis

Liver cirrhosis may occur after decades of the infection. It scars your liver from the inside, making it difficult to function.

Liver cancer

It happens to a rare number of people, but chronic hepatitis C can lead to liver cancer in some.

Liver failure

Cirrhosis at an advanced stage can cause a complete liver shut down.

If you experience chronic HCV symptoms, that means you have already been through the acute phase. This is because most people don’t experience any symptoms of acute hepatitis C.

The virus takes three months to show symptoms of acute HCV. They can last for two weeks to three months.

Chronic hepatitis C infection is the next phase of acute HCV. However, that doesn’t mean your infection will likely become chronic. In some cases, the virus gets out of the system within the acute phase. Spontaneous viral clearance has been recorded from 15% to 25% in people with acute hepatitis C. Besides, hepatitis C responds well to antiviral drugs.

Causes of Hepatitis C Infection

The hepatitis c virus spreads by blood. It transfers to your bloodstream when you have a blood transfusion of contaminated blood from an infected person.

Hepatitis C viruses are present in several forms. These unique forms are known as genotypes.

Currently, virologists have identified seven distinct genotypes and 67 subtypes. The most common HCV genotype found in the U.S. is type 1.

The symptoms of hepatitis C rarely vary based on genotypes. However, your doctor may recommend different treatments based on the viral genotype.

Who is most at risk of Hepatitis C infection?

You are most at risk of getting HCV if you

  • Works as a health care worker, constantly dealing with infected blood and needles

  • Have HIV

  • Injected or inhaled illegal drugs

  • Get a tattoo from an uncleaned setting or unsterile equipment

  • Receive clotting factor concentrates before 1987

  • Got blood transfusion or organ transplant before 1992

  • Were born with hepatitis C

  • Were getting hemodialysis treatment for a while

Prevention from Hepatitis C Infection

Ways to protect yourself from hepatitis C infection

  • Stop infecting illicit drugs.

  • Only get tattoos and body piercings from well-established tattoo parlors and artists.

  • Don’t engage in unprotected sex. Although Hep C majorly transfers through blood, in rare cases, it may get passed through semen or bodily fluids.

Diagnosing Hepatitis C

Hepatitis C can be diagnosed through blood tests, including

Enzyme immunoassay (EIA) − This detects antibodies of HCV

Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test − It tests the presence of the virus, the viral load, and the type of the virus

Further tests are done to identify the genotype of HCV from genotypes 1 to 6.

The doctor further prescribes tests to identify and monitor liver damage caused by HCV. These tests include

  • Tests to measure albumin levels

  • Liver function tests

  • Liver biopsy

  • Prothrombin time

  • Treatment for Hepatitis C Virus

The first priority is to get rid of the virus from the body. This prevents all the complications that may arise in the future, such as liver damage, cancer, and scarring. Meanwhile, people showing signs of liver fibrosis or scarring must take the treatment immediately.

HCV is cured through antiviral drugs. They are generally prescribed based on the genotype of the virus. People with liver cirrhosis or liver cancer may need a liver transplant.

Final Words

Despite the easy medications and recovery, HCV is still a lingering issue worldwide. This is because Hepatitis Virus is sneaky. It can be in your system for months and years without giving you a hint. Suddenly, you would start showing symptoms decades later.

That’s why the U.S preventive services task force recommends everyone between the ages of 18-79 get screened for hepatitis C. This rule applies to people with and without any symptoms.

Updated on: 12-Apr-2023


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