Hepatitis C: An In-Depth Guide

 

Signs and symptoms

Key points

  • Over half of people with hepatitis C do not experience signs or symptoms in the beginning. They may have hepatitis C for many years before signs or symptoms develop.
  • Getting tested is the only way to know if a person has hepatitis C.
  • Symptoms of acute (initial) hepatitis C infection can include fatigue, right-sided tenderness, decreased appetite perhaps with weight loss, flu-like symptoms, nausea, rash, dark-colored urine, and light or clay-coloured stools.
  • Significant medical complications of late-stage chronic hepatitis C can include internal bleeding, abdominal infections, jaundice or delayed blood clotting.

Most people who have hepatitis C do not experience any symptoms when they first become infected (during the acute phase of their hepatitis C infection). Many people have hepatitis C for years—even decades—before any symptoms develop.

Getting tested is the only way to know if a person has hepatitis C. Anyone who may be at risk of a hepatitis C infection should get tested. A person should not wait until symptoms develop.

Symptoms of an acute infection

Few people show symptoms during acute infection (a hepatitis C infection for less than six months). These symptoms can include: fatigue; tenderness or an aching feeling on the right side of the abdomen; decreased appetite perhaps with weight loss; flu-like symptoms; nausea; tendency to bruise or bleed easily; jaundice (yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes); rash; dark-coloured urine; and light or clay-coloured stools. These symptoms often go away after a short time.

Symptoms of a chronic infection

If the hepatitis C infection progresses to a chronic infection (a hepatitis C infection for more than six months), it can take years before symptoms develop. Symptoms of advanced liver disease caused by long-term chronic infection can include: jaundice; fluid build-up (ascites or edema); and blood in stool or vomit. Sleep disturbances, depression, weight loss, dry or itchy skin, and “brain fog” also occur in people with chronic hepatitis C but the cause of these symptoms remains uncertain.

Women and chronic hepatitis C

For women who develop chronic hepatitis C, liver damage generally happens more slowly than it does for men (about half as fast). This can change as a woman gets older—liver damage may happen more quickly for women who are going through menopause or who have completed their transition through menopause.

Symptom management

Some signs and symptoms can cause discomfort that can be managed. Others are significant medical complications, such as fluid build-up (ascites or edema), internal bleeding and jaundice. A person experiencing any symptoms should speak regularly with a healthcare professional. If symptoms become severe, a person should consider visiting a hospital emergency room. 

Click on a symptom to find out more about the condition, including its cause and management. 

Note: It is important to note that having certain symptoms does not automatically mean a person has hepatitis C. People should not fixate only on hepatitis C and ignore other possible health problems.