How will hep C affect me?
Hepatitis C (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.
Most people with chronic hep C do not experience any symptoms until their liver is already damaged, which can take many years [i]. That is why it is very important to get tested for hep C if you could have been exposed to the virus.
If you do get symptoms, they could include:
Fatigue and sleep problems
Fatigue means feeling very tired and lacking energy even after a full night’s sleep. 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) [ii].
Aches, pains and fevers
These can come and go and include fever, chills, headaches, tiredness and muscle or joint pain. They usually last for a week or less but can last longer [i].
Mood swings, anxiety and depression
Because hep C can affect the amount of certain chemicals in your body, it can cause mood swings or other neurological symptoms such as anxiety, feelings of hopelessness or helplessness, irritability, lack of interest in usual activities, periods of sadness or brain fog (difficulty thinking clearly, concentrating and expressing words) [iii][iv].
Feeling sick, poor appetite and indigestion
Hep C can make you feel sick in the stomach (nausea), which can then affect your appetite [i]. 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 [v].
Hep C can cause dry eyes. This may be due to inflammation of the glands that produce tears [vi].
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 [vii].
Type 2 diabetes (non-insulin dependent) is more common among people with hep C than the general population. It can lead to nerve damage, kidney disease, heart disease, eye disorders, stroke and serious skin ulcers [viii].
There are also other, less common symptoms that can occur, including blood, kidney and skin conditions, and disorders of the lymph and nervous systems.
Things to consider
All of the above symptoms can also be caused by other health problems. Gender, health history, eating habits, lifestyle, age, stress levels, and alcohol and other drug intake (whether prescribed or illicit) can also affect how you experience living with hep C.
In some cases, a person with hep C can keep feeling well while their liver is becoming more damaged. In other cases, hep C symptoms can mask the symptoms of other health problems. Finally, symptoms of hep C don’t always get worse and they sometimes appear in clusters (several at once).
If you are at risk of hep C, you should talk to your doctor or specialist for more information. If you do have hep C, there is a safe and effective cure.
Effective treatments for hep C are now available in Australia and could alleviate many of the symptoms of hep C.
Last review: September 2019
i. Victoria State Government. (2018, September). Hepatitis C. Retrieved from Better Health Channel: www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/conditionsandtreatments/hepatitis-c/
ii. Carlson, M. D., Hilsabeck, R. C., Barakat, F., & Perry, W. (2010). Role of Sleep Disturbance in Chronic Hepatitis C Infection. Current Hepatitis Reports, 25-29.
iii. Hep. (2019, March 2). Depression and Hepatitis C. Retrieved from Hepmag: www.hepmag.com/basics/hepatitis-c-basics/depression
iv. Matthew, S., Faheem, M., Ibrahim, S. M., Igbal, W., Rauff, B., Fatima, K., & Qadri, I. (2016). Hepatitis C virus and neurological damage. World Journal of Hepatology, 545-556.
v. Loguidice, C. Skin Manifestations of Chronic Hepatitis C Virus Infection. Retrieved from Infectious Disease Advisor: www.infectiousdiseaseadvisor.com/slideshow/hepatitis-advisor/skin-manifestations-of-chronic-hepatitis-c-virus-infection/
vi. Jacobi, C., Wenkel, H., Korn, K., & Kruse, E. (2007). Hepatitis C and Ocular Surface Disease. Investigative opthamology & visual science, 369.
vii. Alavian, S.-M., Mahboodi, N., Mahboodi, N., & Karayiannis, P. (2013). Oral Conditions Associated with Hepatitis C Virus Infection. The Saudi Journal of Gastroenterology, 245-251.
viii. Hammerstad, S. S., Grocl, S. F., Lee, H. J., Hasham, A., Sunderam, N., & Tomer, Y. (2015). Diabetes and Hepatitis C: A Two-Way Association. Frontiers in Endocrinology, 134.