Hepatitis C Symptoms And Causes

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Hepatitis C symptoms are in most cases very subtle and the disease itself is characterised as being asymptotic. This means that there are little or no symptoms that could indicate viral infection with Hepatitis C virus.

Because of the lack of symptoms Hep C could be as well referred to as an invisible disease.

On the other hand, there are some subtle Hepatitis C symptoms to be aware about. These include:

  • feeling tired all time
  • Jaundice (yellowish eyes)
  • loss of appetite and weight loss
  • stomach problems
  • nausea
  • high temperature of 38oC (100.4oF) or higher

When talking about Hepatitis C symptoms it is important to understand the difference between acute and chronic Hep C. The above symptoms are characteristic for acute Hepatitis C which happens mere weeks after infection with the virus. However, most of these are very subtle and not noticed. They are also very general – it is difficult for a doctor to figure out that these symptoms are a sign of Hep C, because a number of others diseased causing similar symptoms as likely as hepatitis. Hepatitis C symptoms are more severe, yet still subtle, in chronic Hepatitis C, and are as follows:

  • headaches and depression
  • Jaundice (yellowish eyes)
  • tiredness and short-term memory problems
  • mood swings
  • itchy skin
  • joint and muscle pain
  • abdominal pain

If these Hepatitis C symptoms are identified and the disease is properly diagnosed and treated, the chances of being cured of Hepatitis C are very high with both Interferon and Sofosbuvir treatment. Let us see an example of how asymptomatic Hepatitis C can be. The following is a quote by a patient:

I tested reactive for Hepatitis C in 2008. I experienced no symptoms since then. When retested in July of 2013, I was told by the doctor that I was positive for the antibodies, but negative for the virus. No one has definitively explained this to me.

This is the case when the immune system of a Hep C patient was strong enough to fight of the infection. As seen from the quote, there were no symptoms, despite the disease being present. The body produced antibodies that eliminated the Hep C virus. This patient was one of the fortunate 40% of Hep C cases where immune system was able to fight of the virus.

I am tired all the time. I have stomach pains. Feel shortness of breath often. I have a metallic taste in my mouth all the time. I am afraid family might get it, although I’ve been told that it has to be blood-to-blood contact. I still feel like I am harbouring a dangerous monster.

This patient is well aware of the problem he’s having, the next step is to correctly diagnose Hepatitis C with medical test – read more about diagnostics tests for Hep C. Overall, Hepatitis C symptoms are very delicate and hard to figure out. If you have 3 or more of the symptoms, you should go to your doctor and check yourself for Hep C.

Invisible disease

How do you know if you have hepatitis C? In the early stages of the disease it can be hard to tell, and most people don’t perceive any symptoms.

Hepatitis is an inflammation of your liver that can be very serious. Though hepatitis can be caused by infection, medication, toxins, or autoimmune processes, it’s most commonly caused by the hepatitis viruses — in particular, hepatitis A, B, and C. The hepatitis C virus is considered the most serious out of all of the hepatitis viruses.

Types of hepatitis C

There are two main disease courses of hepatitis C: acute hepatitis C and chronic hepatitis C. The length of time you experience symptoms will depend on the type of illness you have.

With acute hepatitis C, the symptoms are more short-term, lasting six months or less. However, acute hepatitis can lead to another type of hepatitis: chronic hepatitis. Chronic hepatitis can last for your entire life, because it’s very difficult for your body to get rid of the virus. Researchers aren’t sure why some people go on to develop the chronic form of the disease, but acute hepatitis C infections often progress to the chronic infection.

How can I tell?

According to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), up to 80 percent of those with acute hepatitis C will not experience symptoms. In some cases, people will experience symptoms not long after the virus has infected them.

These symptoms can be mild or severe and include:

  • fever
  • feeling tired
  • poor appetite

More warning signs

If you develop hepatitis C symptoms soon after infection, you might also have these symptoms:

  • nausea or vomiting
  • pain in your stomach
  • joint or muscle pain
  • abnormalities in urine or bowel movements
  • a yellowing in your eyes or skin

Early symptoms would be most likely to occur around six or seven weeks after exposure to the hepatitis C virus.

Delayed symptoms

While some people may develop hepatitis C symptoms within two weeks of infection, others might experience a much longer delay before noticing any symptoms.

It could take anywhere from six months to 10 years or more before someone with the virus becomes aware of any symptoms, according to the National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse (NDDIC). This is because it can take years for the virus to lead to liver damage.

Getting diagnosed

Since it can be difficult to tell based on symptoms whether you have contracted hepatitis C, you can be tested for it. A simple blood test in your doctor’s office or lab can confirm whether you have the condition.

After your doctor gets the results of your blood test, they may recommend that you undergo a biopsy on your liver to determine if you have chronic hepatitis C.

Treating the symptoms

If you do have symptoms of hepatitis C, there are treatments available. Your doctor may prescribe medications to prevent damage to your liver. By monitoring your symptoms closely and performing blood tests, your doctor can confirm whether certain treatments are working for you.

In the past, there was no medication to rid hepatitis C. However, over the last few years more medications have been approved to treat this disease. Your primary care doctor will most likely refer you to a liver specialist who can help you determine the best course of treatment.

Take preventive measures

It’s difficult to tell if you have hepatitis C based on symptoms. Be sure to practice preventive measures to protect yourself from developing the condition. Practice safe sex. If you get tattoos or piercings, make sure that the employees use clean and sterile needles. You should avoid sharing needles as well.

If you think you may have contracted hepatitis C, talk to your doctor as soon as possible. You can help prevent potential liver damage by starting treatment right away.

Symptoms

Long-term infection with the hepatitis C virus (HCV) is known as chronic hepatitis C. Chronic hepatitis C is usually a “silent” infection for many years, until the virus damages the liver enough to cause the signs and symptoms of liver disease. Among these signs and symptoms are:

  • Bleeding easily
  • Bruising easily
  • Fatigue
  • Poor appetite
  • Yellow discoloration of the skin and eyes (jaundice)
  • Dark-colored urine
  • Itchy skin
  • Fluid buildup in your abdomen (ascites)
  • Swelling in your legs
  • Weight loss
  • Confusion, drowsiness and slurred speech (hepatic encephalopathy)
  • Spider-like blood vessels on your skin (spider angiomas)

Every chronic hepatitis C infection starts with an acute phase. Acute hepatitis C usually goes undiagnosed because it rarely causes symptoms. When signs and symptoms are present, they may include jaundice, along with fatigue, nausea, fever and muscle aches. Acute symptoms appear one to three months after exposure to the virus and last two weeks to three months.

Acute hepatitis C infection doesn’t always become chronic. Some people clear HCV from their bodies after the acute phase, an outcome known as spontaneous viral clearance. In studies of people diagnosed with acute HCV, rates of spontaneous viral clearance have varied from 14 to 50 percent. Acute hepatitis C also responds well to antiviral therapy.

Causes

Hepatitis C infection is caused by the hepatitis C virus. The infection spreads when blood contaminated with the virus enters the bloodstream of an uninfected person.

Globally, HCV exists in several distinct forms, known as genotypes. The most common HCV genotype in North America and Europe is type 1. Type 2 also occurs in the United States and Europe, but is less common than type 1. Both type 1 and type 2 have also spread through much of the world, although other genotypes cause a majority of infections in the Middle East, Asia and Africa.

Although chronic hepatitis C follows a similar course regardless of the genotype of the infecting virus, treatment recommendations vary depending on viral genotype.

Risk factors

Your risk of hepatitis C infection is increased if you:

  • Are a health care worker who has been exposed to infected blood, which may happen if an infected needle pierces your skin
  • Have ever injected or inhaled illicit drugs
  • Have HIV
  • Received a piercing or tattoo in an unclean environment using unsterile equipment
  • Received a blood transfusion or organ transplant before 1992
  • Received clotting factor concentrates before 1987
  • Received hemodialysis treatments for a long period of time
  • Were born to a woman with a hepatitis C infection
  • Were ever in prison
  • Were born between 1945 and 1965, the age group with the highest incidence of hepatitis C infection

Complications

Hepatitis C infection that continues over many years can cause significant complications, such as:

  • Scarring of the liver (cirrhosis). After 20 to 30 years of hepatitis C infection, cirrhosis may occur. Scarring in your liver makes it difficult for your liver to function.
  • Liver cancer. A small number of people with hepatitis C infection may develop liver cancer.
  • Liver failure. Advanced cirrhosis may cause your liver to stop functioning.

 

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