Liver Hepatitis C Acute Vs Chronic

There are essentially two stages — or types — of hepatitis C. In its early stage, it’s known as acute hepatitis C. When this viral infection isn’t cleared, it can persist in the body, possibly developing into chronic hepatitis C. Although these two types of hepatitis C are caused by the same virus, they present differently.

Acute Hepatitis C

Acute hepatitis C may have no symptoms. When symptoms are present, however, they may resemble those of a cold or flu, such as:

  • Cough or congestion
  • Darkened urine or clay-colored stool
  • Fatigue
  • Fever
  • Jaundice
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting.

Although antibodies may be detected within the first few weeks of infection, acute hepatitis C often goes undetected due to lack of symptoms. Acute hepatitis C may be diagnosed early in people who are aware of a specific exposure event, such as a needle stick injury in a healthcare setting.

No treatment exists for acute hepatitis C infection, but doctors often recommend rest and adequate fluids and nutrition. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) (2009) report that 15 to 25 percent of individuals with acute hepatitis C infection experience spontaneous recovery, meaning they clear the virus without treatment. The remainder of cases develop into chronic hepatitis C.

Chronic Hepatitis C

Unlike acute hepatitis C infections, chronic infections persist in the body over an extended period of time. Chronic hepatitis C is diagnosed when the infection lasts longer than six months and abnormal increases in liver enzymes are present. About 60 to 80 percent of acute hepatitis C cases go on to develop chronic hepatitis C. According to the CDC, 3.2 million Americans were infected with chronic hepatitis C as of 2007 (2009).

The more damaging of the two types of hepatitis C, chronic hepatitis C can begin to cause damage to the liver, including scarring known as cirrhosis. Since hepatitis C has few symptoms in its initial stages, it may not be diagnosed until liver damage has already occurred. Individuals diagnosed with chronic hepatitis C should be monitored for liver damage.

Chronic hepatitis C treatment may involve antiviral drugs, which work to rid your body of the virus. If you have chronic hepatitis C, you should take certain steps to protect your liver from further damage. For example, avoid alcohol, and consult your doctor before taking prescription or over-the-counter medications.

Resources

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2009). Hepatitis C FAQs for health professionals. Retrieved September 21, 2010, from http://www.cdc.gov/hepatitis/HCV/HCVfaq.htm#section2.

Indiana State Department of Health. (n.d.). Hepatitis C information: Acute and chronic. Retrieved September 28, 2010, from http://www.in.gov/isdh/23301.htm.

Schering-Plough. (2009). Hepatitis. Retrieved September 28, 2010, from http://www.schering-plough.ca/English/your health/hepatitis/default.asp?s=1.