What Are the Symptoms and Warning Signs of Hepatitis C?

Written by Robin Madell | Published on November 15, 2013
Medically Reviewed by George T. Krucik, MD, MBA on November 15, 2013

Invisible Disease

How do you know if you have hepatitis C? It can be tough to determine—in the early stages of the disease, most people aren’t aware of any symptoms.

Yet, as a hepatitis virus that can attack your liver, the condition is serious. In fact, when it comes to the hepatitis viruses, the hepatitis C infection is considered by the Mayo Clinic to be the most serious of all. Learn more about possible symptoms and warning signs for hepatitis C.

How Can I Tell?

According to the CDC, up to 80 percent of those who have an acute form of hepatitis C will have no visible symptoms. In some cases, however, people will experience certain symptoms not long after the virus has infected them.

These symptoms, which may be mild but can also be severe for some people, include:

  • developing a fever
  • feeling tired
  • having a poor appetite

See a visualization of the effects of Hep C on the body »

More Warning Signs

If you are among the 20 to 30 percent of people who do 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, according to the CDC.

Delayed Symptoms

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.

Types of Hep C

There are two main types of hepatitis C: acute hepatitis C and chronic hepatitis C. The length of time you may experience symptoms will depend on the type of infection you have.

With acute hepatitis C, the symptoms are more short-term, lasting only six months or less. Acute hepatitis, however, 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.

Making Sure

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 or not you have the condition.

After your doctor gets the results of your blood test, he or she may recommend that you undergo a biopsy on your liver to determine if you have chronic hepatitis C.

Treating the Symptoms

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.

If you are diagnosed with chronic hepatitis C, you will likely be prescribed two drugs at once: ribavirin and interferon. Not everyone will benefit from this combination treatment, according to the CDC.

Take Preventive Measures

Since it’s particularly difficult to tell if you have hepatitis C based on symptoms, be sure to practice preventive measures to ensure you’re safe from developing the condition. Consider taking up safer sex practices. 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 do think you may have contracted hepatitis C, talk to your doctor as soon as possible. You can help prevent potential liver damage by acting early.

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