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What is chronic hepatitis C?

Chronic hepatitis C
Chronic hepatitis C is an infection caused by the hepatitis C virus (HCV). It is the most severe of the hepatitis infections, causing long-term inflammation of the liver (more than six months). Over time, HCV can cause scarring of the liver tissue (cirrhosis), liver cancer, and liver failure. Most people do not have symptoms or know that they have the hepatitis virus until the liver is damaged.

In rare cases, hepatitis C infection clears up on its own, but most people will require treatment with antiviral drugs. With newer drug regimens, many people can now be cured of the infection.

Chronic hepatitis B
Chronic hepatitis B is an infection of the liver that causes long-term swelling or inflammation, which can lead to severe liver conditions such as cirrhosis (scarring of the liver), liver failure and liver cancer.

Chronic hepatitis B can be transmitted through infected bodily fluids, including semen, saliva, vaginal fluids and blood. Early symptoms of infection may or may not occur and can range from mild to flu-like. Although symptoms may not be present, people infected with hepatitis B can transmit the infection to others. There is no cure for hepatitis B in either of its forms (acute or chronic). A hepatitis B vaccine is the only way to prevent infection.

Donna Hill Howes, RN
Family Practitioner

Hepatitis is chronic when the body cannot get rid of the hepatitis virus. Children, especially infants, are more likely to get chronic hepatitis B, which usually has no symptoms until signs of liver damage appear. 

Although some people clear the virus from their bodies in a few months, most hepatitis C infections become chronic. Without treatment, chronic hepatitis B and hepatitis C can cause scarring of the liver, called cirrhosis; liver cancer; and liver failure.

Symptoms of cirrhosis include:

  • Yellowish eyes and skin, called jaundice
  • A longer than usual amount of time for bleeding to stop
  • Swollen stomach or ankles
  • Tiredness
  • Nausea
  • Weakness
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Spiderlike blood vessels, called spider angiomas, which develop on the skin.

This information is based on source information from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.