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The Health Complications of Hepatitis C

Hepatitis C increases your risk of these serious medical conditions.

blood, blood test, blood draw

Updated on November 17, 2023

Hepatitis C is a condition caused by coming into contact with an infected person’s blood or via sexual activity with an infected person. It is characterized by inflammation of the liver. There are two stages of the disease: acute, or short term, and chronic, which means life-long. Both stages of hepatitis C may not cause noticeable symptoms in some people. Others living with the condition can experience a wide range of symptoms, from minor to severe, or even life-threatening.

Complications of acute hepatitis C

About 70 to 80 percent of people with acute hepatitis C don’t have any apparent symptoms, but some may experience the following in the six to seven weeks (or up to two to six months) after exposure:

  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Dark urine
  • Joint pain
  • Jaundice

Between 15 and 25 percent of acute hepatitis C infections do not require treatment and go away on their own. However, the remainder become chronic after six months.

Complications of chronic hepatitis C

Many chronic cases do not express symptoms, so people living with the disease are often unaware they’re carriers and do not receive proper treatment. Long-term infections can result in more severe health complications, including liver damage, liver failure, liver cancer and even death. Hepatitis C is the most common cause of cirrhosis, or severe scarring of the liver. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), of every 100 people infected with hepatitis C:

  • 75 to 85 will develop chronic hepatitis C
  • Of those, 60 to 70 will develop chronic liver disease
  • 5 to 20 will develop cirrhosis of the liver
  • 1 to 5 will die from cirrhosis or liver cancer

In addition to liver damage, studies have shown that chronic hepatitis C is associated with a higher risk of developing insulin resistance, as well as types 1 and 2 diabetes. Why? The infection that could cause autoimmune changes that increase the risk of type 1 diabetes; chronic hepatitis C may also make it difficult for cells to absorb glucose, leading to the development of type 2 diabetes.

Hepatitis C screening is recommended for all people ages 18 to 79 years by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force.

What you can do

Both acute and chronic hepatitis C can be treated with antiviral medications, and adopting healthy habits can help keep the liver functioning properly. Those living with hepatitis C should avoid drinking alcohol and be careful when taking prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, or supplements, as they can cause further liver damage. Always check with your healthcare provider before taking any new medications. Maintaining a healthy diet, rich in whole grains, fruits, and veggies—and low in sugar and sodium—can also provide the body with nutrients to help reduce the risk for hepatitis C-related fatigue and other associated conditions.

Article sources open article sources

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Hepatitis C Questions and Answers for the Public. Last reviewed March 2020.
Hammerstad, SS, Grock, SF, et al. Diabetes and Hepatitis C: A Two-Way Association. Frontiers in Endocrinology. 2015. 6, 134.
Antonelli, A, Ferrari, SM, et al. Hepatitis C virus infection and type 1 and type 2 diabetes mellitus. World Journal of Diabetes. 2014. 5(5), 586–600.
U.S. Preventive Services Task Force. Hepatitis C Virus Infection in Adolescents and Adults: Screening. March 2, 2020.
 

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