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The Health Complications of Hepatitis C

Hepatitis C increases your risk of these serious health conditions.

Hepatitis C, a condition caused by coming into contact with an infected person’s blood, 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 hep C may be asymptomatic 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 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 those 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
  • Five to 20 will develop cirrhosis of the liver
  • One to five 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 hep C may also make it difficult for cells to absorb glucose, leading to the development of type 2 diabetes.

Hep 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 good habits can keep the liver healthy and functioning properly. Those living with hepatitis C should avoid drinking and be careful when taking prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications or supplements, as they can cause further liver damage. Always check with your doctor before taking any new medications. Maintaining a healthy diet, rich in whole grains, fruits and veggies, and low in sugar and sodium, can provide the body with nutrients to help fight off hep C-related fatigue and other comorbidities.

Medically reviewed in October 2018.

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