Symptoms and consequences of hepatitis C

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Important messages
- Only a small percentage of people infected experience clear symptoms.
- People who have symptoms mostly feel unwell and/or get yellowish skin or eyes.
- Because there is a small chance of having symptoms, it’s important not to wait with testing until you get symptoms.
- If hepatitis C is left untreated, it can lead to severe liver damage in the future.

Symptoms of acute hepatitis C

A recent hepatitis C infection is called “acute hepatitis C”. This stage lasts for four to six months. Although most people do not experience any symptoms, it’s good to know which symptoms can point to acute hepatitis C.

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Acute hepatitis C sounds more serious than it is. Most cases of acute infection do not produce any symptoms. If you experience any symptoms at all, they will mostly be vague combined with a feeling of being unwell (general malaise). You can also get yellowish skin and eyes.

Potential symptoms

  • poor appetite
  • nausea and vomiting
  • abnormal tiredness
  • flu-like symptoms
  • fever (high temperature)
  • pain in the stomach
  • yellowish eyes and skin (jaundice)
  • dark-coloured urine (like cola)
  • light-coloured stool (putty-coloured)

How soon you experience symptoms of acute hepatitis C (if you experience any at all) differs from person to person. Symptoms show up on average of seven weeks after infection. But some people experience symptoms two weeks after infection, while others only have symptoms after 26 weeks.

Vague symptoms can be a reason to get tested (or take additional tests). On the other hand, only ten per cent of people with acute infection experience any symptoms. Therefore, don’t let the decision to get tested depend only on having symptoms. It’s better to base the decision on whether you’ve recently been at risk.

 

 

Symptoms of chronic hepatitis C

Officially, it will be clear after six months if your body has or hasn’t got rid of the virus. If your body hasn’t got rid of it by then, the infection is called “chronic”. About half of those with chronic hepatitis C infection experience symptoms. The number of symptoms may increase as time passes.

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Potential symptoms

  • tiredness
  • joint and muscle pain
  • loss of appetite
  • you feel unwell (general malaise)

Symptoms of advanced chronic hepatitis C

  • yellowish eyes and skin (jaundice)
  • fluid build-up in the stomach
  • mental confusion
  • bleeding in the oesophagus

Some people experience “brain fog”. This feels as if your head is filled with a thick fog that prevents you from thinking clearly. Others experience depression.

 

 

Long-term effects of hepatitis C

If hepatitis C is not treated, the virus can cause severe liver damage after ten to thirty years of infection.

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An untreated hepatitis C infection can lead to liver fibrosis (= scarring of the liver). Some people suffer liver cirrhosis (= liver shrinkage). In the worst-case scenario, the liver stops working properly, making a liver transplant necessary. Hepatitis C also increases the risk of liver cancer.

How soon does liver damage occur?

The speed at which hepatitis C starts to affect your health depends on

  • your age: it happens less quickly if you are young
  • how much alcohol you drink: even moderate drinking can cause liver damage
  • whether you have other infections, such as HIV and hepatitis B.

Other problems

Chronic hepatitis C doesn’t only affect the liver. It also raises the risk of heart and coronary artery disease, and diabetes. If you are HIV positive, the risk of getting these diseases is even greater.

 

 

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