This infection affects more than just the liver, but its symptoms are hard to ID.
In 70 to 80 percent of acute cases of hepatitis C—an inflammation of the liver—patients don’t experience obvious symptoms and can only learn their status through a blood test.
The signs of hepatitis C are common and could easily be confused for other illnesses, even the flu. Here are the symptoms of acute hepatitis C infection, according to internist Paul Knoepflmacher, MD.
Fatigue (the most common complaint among patients)
Lack of hunger
Muscle or joint aches
Yellowing of the skin or eyes (AKA jaundice)
People infected with hepatitis C may have the disease for years or decades before noticing, and 75 to 85 percent of people with acute hepatitis C develop a chronic infection as a result, according to the CDC. The liver may have significant damage by then, including scarring (known as cirrhosis) or even liver cancer.
Even once hepatitis C has progressed to cirrhosis, you still may not experience symptoms, but signs include:
Swelling in the belly and legs
Feeling full in the belly
Trouble taking a full breath
Bruising or bleeding easily
The CDC recommends all baby boomers get tested at least once (that’s anyone born between 1945-65). This is especially true if you have any risk factors for hepatitis C: using injection drugs or have used them in the past, being HIV positive, or having sex with someone infected with hepatitis C. (Here’s how HIV can increase your risk of hepatitis C infection.)
Knowing your hepatitis C status is critical to getting potentially lifesaving treatment. Newer medications for hepatitis C take just 12 weeks and can have a 95 percent cure rate.
Dr. Knoepflmacher is a clinical instructor of medicine at The Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, where he also maintains a private practice.
Hepatitis C FAQs for the public. Atlanta, GA: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2016. (Accessed on October 4, 2017 at https://www.cdc.gov/hepatitis/hcv/cfaq.htm.)
Patient education: Hepatitis C (beyond the basics). Waltham, MA: UpToDate, 2017. (Accessed on October 4, 2017 at https://www.uptodate.com/contents/hepatitis-c-beyond-the-basics.)