Depression? Nausea? Gallstones? Are these regular illnesses or hepatitis C symptoms?
First discovered in 1989, hepatitis C is a contagious disease which is caused by a virus that infects the liver. Hepatitis C virus or the HCV, is the most common cause of chronic liver disease with the number of cases increasing worldwide with each passing year. As reported by the World Health Organization, approximately 150 million people are infected with the hepatitis C virus. Around 350,000 people lose their lives from hepatitis C-related liver ailments every year.
If left undetected or untreated, hepatitis C can eventually lead to liver cancer, liver damage and liver failure. Hepatitis C can be of 2 main types:
- Acute (generally brief but severe)
- Chronic (spread over a long duration)
Acute Hepatitis C Symptoms
Individuals suffering from acute hepatitis C usually do not display visible symptoms, and the few people that do generally manifest symptoms that are similar to the other cases of acute hepatitis A or B. These include flu-like symptoms, joint aches or mild skin rash.
Individuals that are particularly likely to experience severe hepatitis C are those individuals that already have hepatitis B and become infected with acute hepatitis C.
Other common hepatitis C symptoms:
- Loss of appetite
- Abdominal pain
- Dark urine
- Grey colored stools
- Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes)
- Joint pain
- Itchy skin
- Sore muscles
A hepatitis C infection can cause damage to your liver (cirrhosis). If you develop cirrhosis, you may see symptoms such as:
- Redness on the palms due to expanded small blood vessels
- Clusters of blood vessels just below the skin surfacing usually on one’s chest, shoulders, and face
- Swelling of the abdomen, legs, and feet
- Shrinking muscles
- Bleeding from enlarged veins in your digestive tract referred to as variceal bleeding
- Encephalopathy which is damage to your brain and nervous system. This leads to confusion, memory and concentration problems.
Chronic Hepatitis C symptoms
Similar to acute hepatitis C, most people with chronic hepatitis C may not show symptoms in its early stages or even in its advanced stages. Therefore, most people realize they have hepatitis C when donating blood or during a routine blood test. It is possible to have the hepatitis C virus for years without knowing it and this is also the reason why it is called the silent killer.
Common chronic hepatitis C symptoms, if they do show up are as under –
- Joint and muscle pain
- Decreased appetite
- Weight loss
- Pain and tenderness around the liver
The average time period from exposure to the hepatitis C virus to the onset of symptoms is generally between 4–12 weeks.
The signs and symptoms of chronic hepatitis C may manifest in organs other than the liver. This is known to occur when the immune system tries to fight off the hepatitis C infection. Some cases of hepatitis C have known to cause damage to the kidneys due to a condition known as cryo-globulinemia. This is caused by the presence of abnormal proteins called cryoglobulins in the blood which become solid at low temperatures. When these abnormal proteins thicken or become gel-like, they tend to block blood vessels in the body leading to complications that cause skin rashes to kidney failure.
Other chronic hepatitis C symptoms include anxiety and depression, abdominal swelling, blurred vision or dry eyes, chills, dark urine, a reduced sex drive, dizziness, swelling of the hands, feet & legs, excessive bleeding, excessive gas, fatigue, fever, and other flu-like symptoms, gallstones, gray, yellow, white or light colored stools, persistent headaches, pain or discomfort in liver area, inflammation in the joints, insomnia, mood changes or swings, memory loss and mental confusion, menstrual problems, muscle aches, nausea and vomiting, rashes/red spots or red palms, water retention, excessive weakness, unexplained weight gain or weight loss, etc.
Incubation Periods of the HCV
The time it takes for symptoms to appear after the hepatitis C virus has entered your body is usually between 2 weeks to 6 months. But not all people have symptoms when they are first infected. Whether you show hepatitis C symptoms or not, you may end up spreading the virus to someone else at any time once you are infected.
Most of the hepatitis C symptoms tend to vague, and it is often difficult to diagnose the disease based on these stray symptoms. If you suspect that you have been infected with the virus, the best thing to do is to get a diagnosis as soon as possible. Speak to your health professional at the earliest.