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.
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.
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:
- feeling tired
- poor appetite
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.