Reviewed By: Pramod Kerkar, MD, FFARCSI

Hepatitis C virus affects the proper functioning of your liver. The liver functions as the body's chemical processing plant, filtering out all the toxins from your body. When you have hepatitis C, the liver is not able to filter out the toxins from your body effectively, causing the toxins to remain inside the body for longer than they should. This has many effects on not just your liver, but also in other parts of the body. There are millions of people around the world who are affected by Hepatitis C, but many are not even aware that they are infected with the virus. Hepatitis C is a chronic inflammation of the liver.

Even though it is a disease of the liver, hepatitis C can affect many other parts of your body as well. This is because we do not tend to associate many health issues directly to our liver, thus many of these conditions go unrecognized as generating from hepatitis C. In fact, nearly 75% of patients of hepatitis C tend to experience extrahepatic manifestations. This means that hepatitis C ends up affecting other organs more than it affects the liver.

How Hepatitis C Affects Different Systems of Your Body?

Hepatitis C virus (HCV) gets transmitted through blood. It is rarely known to be transmitted sexually. Once the person becomes infected with HCV, the infection causes inflammation of the liver along with several other issues. The virus acts in two stages - chronic and acute. The acute stage begins within 6 months of getting infected by the virus. This is considered to be a short-term condition, but there are many who end up developing chronic HCV as well. Chronic HCV is a lifelong condition. Many people can go through their lives not having any symptoms of hepatitis C, and therefore, remain unaware that they have been infected by the virus until other, more serious effects start showing up.

Hepatitis C and Damage to the Liver

HCV affects the healthy functioning of your liver first and foremost. A healthy liver is known to perform over 500 different functions for the body. Once you become infected by HCV, the virus infects and damages your liver. Over a period of time, HCV will end up killing the healthy cells of your liver.

A healthy liver has dense and smooth tissues. However, once a liver gets infected with hepatitis C, the tissue starts looking lumpy and stiff. This makes it much harder for the liver to continue to function properly. The damage may eventually reach a stage when the liver is unable to function at all.

When this happens, you become much more susceptible to infections and toxins because the body is unable to filter these toxins out. The liver's ability to produce blood-clotting substances also comes to a grinding halt.

The liver is also responsible for the production of bile, which is primarily responsible for helping you digest food. Your liver is also the storehouse of glucose and vitamins in the body. Once HCV causes the liver to become inflamed, it also interrupts the liver's capacity to perform these important bodily functions.

The early symptoms of hepatitis C could be mild and one tends to be dismissive of them. However, it is absolutely critical to get hepatitis C treated in its early stages itself, in order to prevent any serious damage to your body. This is because once the disease moves to its chronic stage, it can even cause liver cirrhosis, or liver scarring, over a period of time. Apart from the direct effect on the liver, as the disease progresses, you may start to see symptoms such as blood disorders, skin problems, and even weight loss. Some of the more serious effects of chronic HCV can include liver cancer, liver failure, and of course, liver damage. Many other crucial processes inside your body also stop, thus causing more serious diseases and in some serve cases, even death.

How Does Hepatitis C Virus affect Your Central Nervous System (CNS)?

As discussed above, HCV can damage many other parts of the body. HCV causes damage to the CNS as well. This happens because the liver is unable to filter out the toxins from the bloodstream. Some of the symptoms of damage to the CNS include:

  • Sweet or musty breath
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Difficulty managing small motor skills
  • Forgetfulness or state of confusion
  • Poor concentration
  • Changes in your personality
  • Slurred speech
  • Disorientation
  • Shaking of the hands
  • Agitation

In some extremely severe cases, HCV can also cause a person to slip into a coma.

How does Hepatitis C Virus affect your Circulatory System?

One of the functions of the liver is to also manufacture proteins that the body requires for regulating blood clotting and keeping the blood healthy. If the liver is damaged and unable to function properly, then this can cause problems with the blood flow within the body. This increases the pressure on the main portal vein that leads to the liver, resulting in a condition known as portal hypertension. Portal hypertension can force blood to look for alternative veins to flow through, causing these veins to burst. The resulting condition of severe internal bleeding is known as variceal bleeding.

Furthermore, a damaged liver can also cause anemia because the body's iron does not get absorbed properly, hampering its transportation and storage.

How does Hepatitis C Virus affect your Digestive System?

Perhaps one of the first systems of the body to get affected by HCV is your digestive system. The liver supports the healthy functioning of many other systems in the body, particularly the digestive system. A major function of the liver is to manufacture bile, a product that is required for the breakdown of fats in the body. Bile is stored in the gallbladder and then sent to the beginning part of the small intestines when it is required.

HCV has a direct impact on the liver's ability to manufacture bile. When the bile production is interrupted, it becomes difficult for the body to digest any type of fatty foods. This may also cause you to feel pain throughout your abdomen because of the fluid buildup in the stomach. This condition is known as ascites. Ascites occurs when the damaged liver is unable to manufacture sufficient quantities of albumin, a product that is required for regulating the amount of fluid present in the cells.

Apart from this, HCV may also cause the following symptoms of the digestive system:

In certain cases, HCV can also cause your gallbladder to become inflamed, causing severe pain. This happens only in the acute stage of the disease and in extremely rare cases only.

How does Hepatitis C Virus affect your Immune and Endocrine Systems?

Endocrine and immune are two of the most important systems in the body. The endocrine system regulates the production or hormones in the body. The thyroid gland is an important part of this endocrine system and is responsible for delivering these hormones into your bloodstream. In some cases, HCV can make the immune system attack the thyroid tissue. This can cause either hyperthyroidism or hypothyroidism. Symptoms for both these conditions are given below:

  • Overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism) - weight loss, hair loss, sleep disorders
  • Underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism) - weight gain, fatigue, hair loss

The liver's inability to function properly may also cause type 2 diabetes, as the body is no longer able to control its sugar levels.

How does Hepatitis C Virus affect your Integumentary System?

The integumentary system defines your skin, hair, and nails. It may surprise you to know that hepatitis C also has an impact on your integumentary system. Hepatitis C can cause a variety of skin problems, including loss of skin pigment, rashes on the skin, itching, and easy bruising due to problems with blood clotting.

HCV can even cause jaundice, causing your skin to appear yellow. This happens because the damaged liver has an impact on bilirubin, which is produced by the breakdown of hemoglobin. When the liver is damaged, it is unable to function properly, causing a buildup of bilirubin inside the body. This causes jaundice. Even the whites of your eyes can turn yellow.

A damaged liver also has an impact on your nutrition as you have no appetite to want to eat. Poor nutrition in turns affects the growth of your nails and hair as well.

Complications with Brain Function & Fluid Regulation

A damaged liver means that the body is unable to regulate the levels of amino acids. Amino acids are organic compounds that combine together to form proteins. Amino acids are known as the building blocks of life as without these, your body will not be able to carry half of its functions. The body needs amino acids for not just growing new body tissues, but also for repairing any damaged body tissues. They are also required for many other critical functions. A damaged liver is unable to regulate the number of amino acids that get released into your bloodstream daily. This can cause several complications with the functioning of your brain as well as with fluid regulation in the body.

How Do You Know If You Have Hepatitis C?

A simple blood test can easily identify the presence of HCV antibodies in your bloodstream. If these antibodies are present, then it means that you have been exposed to the virus in recent times. If the first blood test confirms the presence of HCV antibodies, then your doctor will schedule another blood test to confirm that you have an HCV infection.

Conclusion

It is very much possible for people to not experience any symptoms in spite of being infected with Hepatitis C Virus. This is particularly true in the acute stage. Patients may report feelings of general fatigue, fever, or generalized aches and pains, but they never associate this with a hepatitis C infection. Symptoms become noticeable when the disease progresses to the chronic stage. Therefore, if you notice anything out of the ordinary with your health, it is best to consult your doctor before it gets too late. Early treatment is beneficial to prevent any permanent damage to the liver and other life-threatening complications.

Also Read:

Pramod Kerkar

Written, Edited or Reviewed By:

, MD,FFARCSI

Pain Assist Inc.

Last Modified On: June 1, 2018

This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer

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