How will hep C affect me?
Hep C can cause inflammation of your liver and can prevent it from working properly. Your liver has many functions which are critical to staying alive, including removing toxins from the blood, storing essential minerals, helping blood to clot, and converting blood sugar to energy. Left untreated, hep C may cause cirrhosis (scarring of the liver) and liver cancer, reducing the functioning of your liver.
You might not feel sick from your hep C, although many people do start to feel unwell after 10-15 years. Things such as your gender, your health history, eating habits, lifestyle, age, stress levels, and alcohol and drug intake (whether prescribed or illicit) all affect how you might experience living with hep C.
Sometimes symptoms of hep C can mask the symptoms of other health problems, or you may keep feeling well even though your liver is becoming more damaged. Prescription or over-the-counter medications are often suggested to help with some symptoms. Always ask for your doctor’s advice and follow the medication directions because some medications can hurt your liver.
Symptoms of hep C do not always get worse and they sometimes appear in clusters (several at once).
What are the common symptoms of hep C?
Common symptoms of hep C can include the following: [i]
Fatigue and sleep problems
Many people with hep C may feel fatigued (very tired and lacking in energy). Fatigue can be caused by other things (e.g. stress, a busy lifestyle or other health conditions). If you are affected by it, you should tell your doctor. Sleep problems include difficulty falling asleep, waking up a lot, or sleeping too much (eight hours sleep per night is generally enough for an adult). Sleep problems can affect your quality of life by making you feel irritable or fatigued.
Flu-like symptoms can come and go. They usually last for a week or less, but can occasionally last longer. They include fever, chills, headaches, tiredness and muscle or joint pain. Because these symptoms can mask other medical problems, speak to your doctor about them.
Mood swings, anxiety and depression
The liver processes hormones, some people with hep C experience mood swings. Other symptoms such as anxiety, feelings of hopelessness or helplessness, irritability, lack of interest in usual activities, and periods of sadness may also occur. Because these feelings can also be caused by other health problems, it’s important to talk to your doctor about them.
For some people it may become difficult to think clearly and concentrate. You may struggle to find words you want to say or may just feel mentally tired. Brain fog can come and go and can be linked to depression and anxiety. It can be caused by other medical problems, so speak to your doctor about it.
Feeling sick, poor appetite and indigestion
Hep C can make people feel sick in the stomach (nausea), which can affect appetite. Although there is usually no vomiting, it can be very uncomfortable.
Skin rashes and itchy skin
With hep C, skin rashes and complaints may come and go. They may include itchiness, blisters, white spots, tightened skin, spider web patterns and purple patches. They can occur on the palms of hands, soles of the feet, general skin areas and inside the mouth.
Hep C can cause dry eyes. This may be due to inflammation of the glands that produce tears.
Dry mouth and mouth ulcers
Hep C infection can cause a dry mouth. This can lead to bad breath, tooth decay, cracked lips, and a sore mouth and throat. It can also cause difficulty with eating and swallowing, mouth ulcers and tooth sensitivity.
Type 2 diabetes (non-insulin dependent) is more common among people with hep C than among the general population.[ii] It can lead to nerve damage and disease of the kidneys and heart, as well as eye disorders, stroke and serious skin ulcers.
What are other less common symptoms of hep
Hep C can be linked to other health problems including blood, kidney and skin conditions, and disorders of the lymph and nervous systems. Speak to your doctor or specialist for more information.
For more information on hep C treatment you can contact the National Hepatitis Info Line on 1800 437 222.
Last review June 2018
i.Hoofnagle, J. H. (1997), Hepatitis C: The clinical spectrum of disease. Hepatology, 26: 15S–20S. doi:10.1002/hep.510260703
ii.Journal article – Frontiers in Endocrinology https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4568414/