Could You Have Hepatitis C? Here’s What You Need to Look Out For

People who are infected with hepatitis C may not experience symptoms for years, making it difficult to diagnose. However, recognizing the early signs is crucial in preventing long-term complications. If you suspect you may have been exposed to the virus, you can research this information online before consulting a doctor.

How Do You Get Hepatitis C?

The hepatitis C virus (HCV) is primarily transmitted through contact with infected blood. The transmission occurs when the blood of an infected person enters the body of an uninfected person, explains the Cleveland Clinic. In the United States, sharing needles for intravenous drug use is the most common way of transmitting the virus. However, the source warns that accidental exposure to another person’s blood can also occur.

Examples of accidental exposure to infected blood include:

According to the Cleveland Clinic, before 1992, hepatitis C was frequently spread through blood transfusions and organ transplants. However, healthcare providers now routinely screen donated blood and organs for the virus. Despite this, the source recommends individuals who received a transfusion or transplant before 1992 get tested for HCV.

Different Types of Hepatitis C

Hepatitis C can manifest in either an acute or chronic form, and the duration of symptoms is determined by the type of hepatitis C infection. Acute hepatitis C typically presents with short-term symptoms that last for about 6-months or less, says Healthline. However, acute hepatitis C often progresses to chronic hepatitis C, which persists for more than 6-months.

In the absence of treatment, chronic hepatitis C may persist throughout a person’s life because the body is unable to eliminate the virus efficiently, warns the source. While some people may recover from chronic hepatitis C without treatment, seeking treatment can significantly improve the prognosis.

According to WebMD, hepatitis C doesn’t always become chronic. It’s unclear how or why, but between 15 and 25-percent of people are able to clear the virus from their body without treatment. This is known as spontaneous clearance.

Early Warning Signs of Hepatitis C

The majority of individuals do not experience any first symptoms or indications of hepatitis C, says the Cleveland Clinic. However, during the acute stage of infection, some may have vague flu-like symptoms, while others may experience liver disease symptoms, such as stomach pain and jaundice. Later on, when the liver begins to fail, the source warns that individuals may start experiencing symptoms of late-stage liver disease.

Some of the early signs of hepatitis C infection during the acute stage may include fever, fatigue, body aches, and loss of appetite, says the Cleveland Clinic. These symptoms may also resemble the signs of acute liver failure, such as jaundice, abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting, and dark colored urine.

Symptoms of Advanced Liver Disease

If a person does not experience any early warning symptoms, they may develop late warning symptoms of hepatitis once they start experiencing the consequences of cirrhosis due to prolonged infection, says the Cleveland Clinic.

The source goes on to list some additional symptoms that a person may experience, which are: edema or swelling in the arms and legs due to fluid retention, pruritus or itchy skin, ascites or fluid buildup in the abdomen, easy bruising or bleeding, unexplained weight loss, and hepatic encephalopathy, which may cause confusion or difficulty in thinking and remembering.

How to Treat Hepatitis C

Treatment for hepatitis C involves antiviral medications that are specifically designed to clear the virus from the body, explains the Mayo Clinic. Researchers have recently made significant advancements in developing new direct-acting antiviral medications, often used in combination with existing ones, leading to better treatment outcomes.

One example of a direct-acting antiviral medication that targets viruses is Mavyret. The replication of the hepatitis C virus is inhibited by Mavyret, and according to Medical News Today, blocking the replication process causes the virus to eventually expire and be eliminated from the body.

Liver transplantation may also be considered for those who have developed severe complications due to chronic hepatitis C infection. However, the Mayo Clinic warns that it won’t eliminate the virus, so patients still have to undergo antiviral medication to prevent damage to the transplanted liver.