Symptoms of infection with hepatitis C

Symptoms of acute infection with hepatitis C

Acute infection is the period when you first contract the virus, during this period most people do not seem to experience any noticeable symptoms.

For the 25-35% of people who do, the symptoms are normally vague and non-specific.

They can include:

  • Slight fever.
  • Fatigue.
  • Appetite loss.
  • Abdominal pain.
  • Nausea and vomiting.

About 20% of the people who develop symptoms experience jaundice. This can be seen in the yellowing of the skin and eyes. This is a sign of the liver’s functions being affected as bilirubin (the pigment of bile) begins to build up in the body. Jaundice is a recognised sign of liver problems and may lead to a test for hepatitis C being suggested.

The problem for most people is that they are unaware that they have been infected because of the lack of symptoms. As these symptoms are similar to many other short term infections most people are unlikely to seek medical attention.

And even when they do, most doctors will not necessarily suspect or test for hepatitis C.

Symptoms of chronic infection with hepatitis C

Chronic infection doesn't mean that you have symptoms, chronic means that the infection is ongoing, that you are living with the virus.

The hepatitis C virus (HCV) is associated with a wide spectrum of liver disease. This ranges from minor inflammation to cirrhosis, and in certain cases liver cancer.

In addition to the effects on the liver it is now clear that HCV also causes a variety of other symptoms. Many people with chronic HCV feel absolutely normal and have no symptoms or problems at all. However, there are others who suffer from severe symptoms almost certainly related to the infection.

Many people with chronic HCV complain of experiencing difficulty in concentrating. Some people have used the term ‘brain fog’ to describe these symptoms. This can include poor concentration, poor memory and difficulty in completing complex mental tasks. These symptoms are common, but successful antiviral therapy does improve them. Many people who have successfully had the virus treated find that their concentration and memory return to normal.

Chronic fatigue

Another common complaint is chronic fatigue. The severity of this fatigue differs from person to person. Some people are able to complete a full day’s work but then feel exhausted in the evening. Others are unable to work at all and find that they spend a very large amount of time sleeping. However, sleep does not seem to lessen the fatigue. Many people wake up feeling as if they have never gone to sleep. Once again, the fatigue associated with chronic HCV often improves with successful therapy.

Many chronic HCV sufferers also complain of getting aches and pains. Large numbers get sharp pains over the liver (found in the upper right corner of the abdomen) which can sometimes be very alarming. These pains are not necessarily connected with severe liver disease. Many people with mild HCV have the same kind of symptoms. These pains often persist for some time after successful therapy. In most patients they do seem to resolve with time.

Pains in the upper part of the abdomen

Occasionally the pains in the upper part of the abdomen spread to the rest of the abdomen. This can cause generalised abdominal pains that can result in quite severe discomfort. Many people with chronic HCV suffer from aches and pains in their joints. A variety of different joints can be involved but the most common are in the hands and wrists. These pains are often minor but occasionally the pain can be quite severe. In such cases painkillers can be used to relieve the symptoms.

Dry eyes, irritable bowel and irritable bladder

Many people with chronic hepatitis C also mention a wide variety of different health related problems. These include dry eyes, irritable bowel and irritable bladder type symptoms as well as other similar problems. It is still not clear whether these symptoms are related to hepatitis C infection or not. Most of these disorders are common and may be increased by stress. However, the stress associated with the infection may worsen, or possibly cause, the symptoms. Until we understand more about HCV it is difficult to say whether or not these problems are caused by the virus.

Do not assume that all of your aches and pains are related to hepatitis

It can be very dangerous to assume that all of your aches and pains are related to hepatitis. Chronic HCV is common and many sufferers will also develop other, non-hepatitis, related symptoms. Thyroid disease, which can cause fatigue, is common in patients with chronic HCV. There may also be many other causes of abdominal pain. Like everyone else they can develop stomach ulcers and gallstones. It is important that any symptoms are properly investigated to make sure that HCV is responsible. You should discuss your symptoms with your doctor, who should then be able to arrange appropriate investigations to exclude other common disorders.