How Hepatitis C Puts You at Risk for Diabetes

Chronic hep C is associated with an increased risk for other serious health conditions, including type 2 diabetes.

Hep C is associated with an increased risk of a long list of diseases and conditions, including diabetes.

Hepatitis C is a viral infection that causes inflammation in the liver. Although asymptomatic in most cases—meaning they do not cause symptoms—chronic hep C infections can cause serious long-term complications.

These complications can include cirrhosis, severe scarring of the liver that leaves the liver unable to function normally, as well as liver failure and liver cancer.

Even patients who are years away from these complications can experience severe health consequences as a result of a chronic hep C infection.

Hep C is associated with an increased risk of a long list of diseases and conditions, including arthritis, blood disorders, fatigue, kidney disease, and immune dysfunction.

Hep C is also associated with an increased risk of diabetes.

What is diabetes?

Diabetes is a metabolic disorder where the body is no longer able to make insulin, make adequate amounts of insulin, or is unable to use the insulin it does make.

Insulin is a hormone produced in the pancreas. It enables the body to metabolize glucose (blood sugar), one of the body’s main sources of energy.

People who are diabetic have elevated levels of glucose in the blood, which can damage the blood vessels throughout the body. This can lead to kidney disease, eye problems, nerve damage, and other complications. People with diabetes are also at a much higher risk for heart disease and stroke.

Type 2 diabetes

There are two main types of diabetes. Type 2 diabetes is the most common form:

  • Type 2 diabetes (T2D) accounts for over 90 percent of diabetes cases.
  • It occurs when the body becomes insulin resistant—unable to use insulin and/or unable to make enough insulin.
  • Risk factors for T2D include being overweight or obese, sedentary lifestyle, poor diet, older age, and a family history of the disease.

People who have hep C are more likely to have T2D as well as other metabolic disorders, including insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome.

Research suggests that there is a two-way association between the conditions—hep C infection can trigger the onset of T2D and having T2D can accelerate the damage caused by a hep C infection.

T2D can also reduce the effectiveness of hep C treatment.

There is an upside though—some research has shown that patients who have hep C and type 2 diabetes see improved blood glucose control during treatment for hep C and after successfully clearing the HCV infection.

Type 1 diabetes

The other main type of diabetes is type 1 diabetes.

  • Type1 diabetes accounts for roughly 5 percent of diabetes cases.
  • In most cases, it occurs when an autoimmune response by the body attacks the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas.
  • Once these insulin-producing cells are destroyed, the body is no longer able to make insulin.

Though it’s less common than the association with T2D—and more research is needed—hep C infections may also trigger the onset of type 1 diabetes.

Protecting your health

If you have hepatitis C, see a healthcare provider for treatment. With proper treatment, chronic hep C is highly curable.

In addition to seeking treatment for hep C, it’s also important to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Eating well, exercising regularly, maintaining a healthy weight, avoiding alcohol, and quitting smoking (if you smoke) can reduce your risk of diabetes and other conditions. Healthy habits can also help lower your risk of complications related to hep C.

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National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. "Risk Factors for Type 2 Diabetes."
Lucivalda Pereira Magalhaes Oliveira, Rosangela P. de Jesus, et al. "Metabolic syndrome in patients with chronic hepatitis C virus genotype 1 infection who do not have obesity or type 2 diabetes." Clinics (Sao Paulo), 2016. Vol. 67, No. 3.
Sara Salehi Hammerstad, Shira Frankel Grock, et al. "Diabetes and Hepatitis C: A Two-Way Association." Frontiers in Endocrinology, 2015. Vol. 6, No. 134.
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