While liver inflammation is the primary area of concern with a hepatitis C virus infection, the condition can also increase your risk of developing kidney-related complications, such as acute kidney injury or chronic kidney disease.

Hepatitis C (hep C) refers to a type of liver inflammation that occurs when you develop a hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection. It’s spread via blood, with most cases occurring from shared needles.

Hep C may either be short-term (acute) or long-term (chronic). More than 50% of people who contract HCV go on to develop chronic hep C. While primarily a disease that affects the liver, there’s also a possibility that hep C may increase your risk of developing kidney disease.

Read on to learn more about the connection between hep C and chronic kidney disease and important topics you should consider discussing with a doctor if you have hep C.

Hep C directly affects your liver. When you have chronic hep C, you may not know you have this condition until you have liver damage that causes symptoms such as abdominal pain or swelling, jaundice, or fatigue.

But in some cases, hep C may also damage your kidneys by causing blood vessel damage, inflammation, and a decreased ability to filter out wastes.

In some cases, this can lead to chronic kidney disease, acute kidney injury, and other conditions.

Chronic kidney disease (CKD) refers to a condition where your kidneys gradually endure permanent damage. As this damage progresses, your kidneys can no longer filter out wastes and excess water, causing them to build up in your body.

Early stages of CKD often don’t cause symptoms. However, advanced cases may cause:

  • increased or decreased urination
  • loss of appetite
  • unintentional weight loss
  • nausea or vomiting
  • headaches
  • dry, itchy skin
  • numbness
  • muscle cramps
  • chest pain
  • shortness of breath
  • fatigue
  • problems with sleep or concentration

While hep C may increase your risk of developing CKD, it’s not considered common. If you already have CKD and then develop an HCV infection, you may be at a greater risk of developing end-stage renal disease.

Sometimes, hep C may cause a type of kidney disease called glomerulonephritis, in which the filters in your kidneys, called glomeruli, become inflamed. Over time, this inflammation may cause permanent damage to your kidneys and eventually CKD.

It’s also thought that people with CKD are at a higher risk of developing HCV infections due to hemodialysis. This treatment filters your blood when your kidneys can no longer remove wastes and excess water for you.

If you receive hemodialysis, it’s important to talk with the facility about infection-controlling measures to reduce your risk of HCV transmission.

Another link to CKD is diabetes. Not only is diabetes the most common cause of CKD, but having hep C also increases your risk for developing diabetes, which can cause kidney disease and kidney failure.

While also not common, hep C also increases your risk of developing acute kidney injury (AKI).

This can be the result of hep C medication side effects. One 2018 study found about one-fifth of patients who took ledipasvir-sofosbuvir, a combination hep C medication, went on to develop AKI. The risk was also greater in those who had CKD.

Hep C may also lead to blood vessel inflammation (vasculitis) within your kidneys. This can reduce their ability to function normally.

Unlike the gradual damage that occurs in CKD, AKI consists of a sudden onset of reduced kidney function. Also, unlike CKD, most cases of AKI are reversible with treatment.

Symptoms of AKI may include:

  • decreased urination
  • swelling, particularly in your lower extremities
  • fatigue
  • chest pain
  • shortness of breath
  • nausea
  • confusion
  • seizures

AKI is treatable with hospitalization, during which you may receive dialysis, intravenous fluids, or medications to balance potassium and other electrolytes. Once you have had AKI, you may be at risk of developing it again in the future.

Hep C is considered a direct cause of kidney failure, and it may also reduce your risk of survival if you have CKD.

If a doctor determines that your kidneys have less than 15% of their normal function, they may recommend a kidney transplant. During this surgical procedure, your damaged kidneys are removed and replaced with healthy donor kidneys.

It’s also important to know that undergoing a kidney transplant may increase your risk of developing HCV, so you may consider discussing these risks with your doctor before the surgery.

If you have hep C, you should get tested for kidney disease at least once a year. Also, if you’re taking certain hep C medications, such as ledipasvir-sofosbuvir, talk with a doctor about your risk of developing AKI.

You might also consider seeing a doctor for testing if you’re experiencing any possible symptoms of reduced kidney function, such as changes in urination, fatigue, or fluid retention.

On the flip side, a doctor may recommend regular testing for HCV if you have kidney disease.

Hepatitis C is a type of liver inflammation that develops from an HCV infection. While the liver is the primary area of concern with this condition, hep C can also increase your risk of CKD and AKI. This is especially the case if you already have CKD, or certain conditions like diabetes.

If you have hep C, it’s important to talk with a doctor about ways you can reduce your risk of developing kidney disease. They may recommend annual testing, but you should also call them if you experience any possible kidney-related symptoms.