Overview of Hepatitis C
A type of viral infection, hepatitis C attacks the liver, causing inflammation. The longer the infection goes undetected and untreated, the more serious damage it can cause to your liver. The problem is that the infection causes little to no symptoms for a long time, making it difficult for a person to even find out that they are infected.
Hepatitis C is caused by the hepatitis C virus (HCV). The infection affects people in different ways and is known to have several stages including: (1)
Incubation Period: This is the time between your first exposure to the virus to the start of the disease. This can last for 14 to 80 days, but the average time is generally 45 days.
Acute Hepatitis C: This is the short term hepatitis infection that lasts for the first six months from the time the virus enters your body. After six months, many people who have been infected end up getting cured without needing any treatment as the virus simply clears up on its own.
Chronic Hepatitis C: If within the first six months, your body is not able to clear out the virus without needing treatment, then it becomes established as a long term infection. Chronic hepatitis C can lead to many types of health problems, including severe ones such as liver cirrhosis and liver cancer.
Cirrhosis: Cirrhosis is a condition that causes inflammation and over a period of time starts replacing the healthy cells of your liver with scar tissue. It takes around 20 to 30 years for cirrhosis to happen, but it can happen much faster if you have HIV or if you drink alcohol regularly. (2)
Liver Cancer: Having cirrhosis increases your risk of getting liver cancer. Your doctor will make you get regular screenings as similar to hepatitis C, there are generally no visible symptoms of liver cancer in the early stages. (3)
Common Symptoms of Hepatitis C
While many people with hepatitis C do not experience any symptoms, some people will start experiencing symptoms between two weeks to six months after the virus enters the bloodstream. Some of the common symptoms of hepatitis C include: (4)
- Dark urine
- Clay-colored stool
- Weakness or fatigue
- Joint pain
- Loss of appetite
- Jaundice, a condition that leads to yellowing of the skin and the whites of your eyes
- Stomach pain
The symptoms tend to last for 2 to 12 weeks.
There are some other symptoms of the infection as well that are more severe and should not be ignored. Let us take a look at some of these symptoms.
8 Symptoms of Hepatitis C You Should Never Ignore
Symptoms of Hepatitis C are:
Having Unusual Abdominal Pain
Hepatitis C is known to attack the liver, which is located in the upper right side of your abdomen. Pain in the abdomen can be a symptom of many other conditions, including problems with the pancreas, gall bladder stones, and many other such conditions. However, having pain in the upper right side of the abdomen where your liver is located can point to a more serious issue. This can be an indication of chronic liver disease or even liver cancer.
If you start to experience any discomfort or sudden pain in your abdomen and you know that you have hepatitis C, then you should not wait for the pain to go away on its own. Make an appointment with your doctor at the earliest to have this checked out. (5)
Sudden Loss of Weight Without Trying
Another potential cause of concern could be if you notice that you are losing weight without making any effort. If this is happening with you, then hepatitis C might be the underlying cause. When there is a chronic infection due to the hepatitis C virus, it may cause liver scarring, a condition that is known as cirrhosis. When you have cirrhosis, you will find yourself unable to maintain the right amount of nutrition that you need. This happens because of frequent vomiting, loss of appetite, digestion issues, and the secretion of hormones.
As a result of all these factors, you will start losing weight as your body begins to break down important tissue to get its nutrition. (6)
Feeling Full Very Quickly
It is normal to notice a change in your appetite if you have hepatitis C. However, sometimes as the infection progresses, increasing liver dysfunction can result in an accumulation of excessive fluid in the stomach. This condition is known as ascites.
Ascites makes you feel full very quickly and your abdomen may start becoming balloon-shaped and appear as if you have eaten quite a lot, even though you have not. This symptoms is a sign that your hepatitis C infection has progressed to become a more severe form of liver disease and you should seek immediate medical attention. (7)
If you notice any type of abdominal bloating and general abdominal discomfort, then you should arrange to see your doctor at the earliest.
Itchy or Blotchy Skin
Nearly 20 percent of people who have hepatitis C experience itchy skin, or pruritus. It is important to note that having itchy skin is a common sign that you are developing late-stage liver disease or cirrhosis.
If you start experiencing extreme itchiness in your feet, hands, or all over the body, you need to bring this to your doctor’s notice right away.
Eyes or Skin Turning Yellow
Jaundice is another symptom of hepatitis C that you should never ignore. Jaundice causes a yellowish tint to the whites of your eyes or your skin. When the red blood cells in the body start aging, they are taken apart inside the body. This process releases bilirubin, which is a yellow substance that is altered by a healthy liver and flushed out of the body.
However, if your liver is damaged due to hepatitis C, it will not be able to process this yellow substance. This causes the bilirubin to build up in your body, ultimately leading to discoloration of the skin and the eyes. It can also cause your urine to appear to be darker than usual and also cause lighter colored stool. (8)
The Appearance of Spider Angiomas
The hepatitis C virus causes damage to the liver, and when the liver becomes damaged, it can cause spikes in the body’s estrogen levels. One symptom that indicates that your hormone levels are higher than average is the appearance of spider-like blood vessels known as spider angiomas. These appear just underneath your skin and may look like tiny red dots that have lines protruding from them. (9)
Swelling in the Legs
One of the common side effects of hepatitis C is that your body starts to retain fluids. Swelling, known as edema, starts to show up wherever there is a buildup of fluid.
This is especially common in the tissues of your legs, feet, and ankles. Your legs may start to look puffy or become shiny and dimpled.
If you are suffering from edema, your doctor is going to prescribe a diuretic drug (water pill) that will help flush out any unwanted fluids from your system.
You Develop Anemia
The liver is a critical organ of the body and is responsible for the absorption, transportation, and storage of iron in the body. Once the liver is damaged, these processes along with others, get disrupted, causing you to become iron deficient, a condition known as anemia.
Some of the common symptoms of anemia that is observed with liver damage are as follows:
It is always concerning to experience any type of a new symptom regardless of what condition you are suffering from. This is especially true when you have hepatitis C because certain symptoms are indicative of the fact that your disease is progressing towards liver damage. The most important thing you need to keep in mind is that you need to inform your doctor about any new symptoms immediately so that they can determine whether the symptoms are problematic or not. So any time you experience any of the symptoms mentioned above or a new symptom, you should visit your doctor as soon as you can so that you can receive the right treatment at the earliest.
- C, T. (2019). Hepatitis C Phases | UC San Diego Health. [online] UC Health – UC San Diego. Available at: https://health.ucsd.edu/specialties/gastro/areas-expertise/liver-center/hepatitis-c/Pages/hepatitis-c-phases.aspx [Accessed 20 Aug. 2019].
- Toshikuni, N., Arisawa, T. and Tsutsumi, M., 2014. Hepatitis C-related liver cirrhosis-strategies for the prevention of hepatic decompensation, hepatocarcinogenesis, and mortality. World Journal of Gastroenterology: WJG, 20(11), p.2876.
- Underferth, D. (2019). Hepatitis C and liver cancer: What to know. [online] MD Anderson Cancer Center. Available at: https://www.mdanderson.org/publications/focused-on-health/HepatitisC-liver-cancer-What-you-need-to-know.h16Z1591413.html [Accessed 20 Aug. 2019].
- American Liver Foundation. (2019). Hepatitis C Symptoms. Diagnosing Hepatitis C – ALF. [online] Available at: https://liverfoundation.org/for-patients/about-the-liver/diseases-of-the-liver/hepatitis-c/diagnosing-hepatitis-c/#signs-symptoms [Accessed 20 Aug. 2019].
- Hepatitis.va.gov. (2019). Pain Associated with Hepatitis C – Viral Hepatitis and Liver Disease. [online] Available at: https://www.hepatitis.va.gov/hcv/patient/pain/hepatitisC-pain.asp [Accessed 20 Aug. 2019].
- Fioravante, M., Alegre, S.M., Marin, D.M., Lorena, S.L.S., Pereira, T.S. and Soares, E.C., 2012. Weight loss and resting energy expenditure in patients with chronic hepatitis C before and during standard treatment. Nutrition, 28(6), pp.630-634.
- Hepatitisc.uw.edu. (2019). Core Concepts – Diagnosis and Management of Ascites – Management of Cirrhosis-Related Complications – Hepatitis C Online. [online] Available at: https://www.hepatitisc.uw.edu/go/management-cirrhosis-related-complications/ascites-diagnosis-management/core-concept/all [Accessed 20 Aug. 2019].
- Lohia, P., Jinjuvadia, R. and May, E., 2013. Profound jaundice in a patient with acute hepatitis C. Case Reports, 2013, p.bcr2013200233.
- Khasnis, A. and Gokula, R. (2019). Spider nevus.. [online] Jpgmonline.com. Available at: http://www.jpgmonline.com/article.asp?issn=0022-3859;year=2002;volume=48;issue=4;spage=307;epage=9;aulast=Khasnis [Accessed 20 Aug. 2019].
- What is Hepatitis C, How Does it Spread and Ways to Prevent Liver Damage in Hepatitis C
- How Hepatitis C Affects Different Systems of Your Body?
- Is It Possible To Cure Hepatitis C?
- Difference Between Protease Inhibitors & Antiviral Drugs for Hepatitis C Treatment
- Acute Vs Chronic Hepatitis C & Your Treatment Options
- Treatment of Hepatitis C: Traditional Treatments & Advances in Hepatitis C Treatments