Liver Hepatitis C Symptoms

Since hepatitis C slowly causes damage to the liver, some people may only experience mild, non-specific symptoms in its initial (acute) phase. In many cases, however, affected individuals are asymptomatic in both acute and chronic hepatitis C infection. These people may experience no symptoms of hepatitis C until the virus seriously damages the liver, resulting in a more serious secondary condition, such as cirrhosis or liver cancer.

Signs of Hepatitis C: Acute Stages

In its initial stages, symptoms of hepatitis C may be nonexistent. Early hepatitis symptoms, if any, appear within two to 24 weeks of infection (usually within four to 12 weeks), and may include:

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

Since these hepatitis symptoms resemble more benign conditions, such as a cold or flu, most individuals don’t visit their doctors or the doctors may overlook the symptoms, which may explain the low rates of early diagnosis of hepatitis C.

Symptoms of Hepatitis C: Chronic Stages

Even in its chronic stages, some people experience few signs of hepatitis C, causing it to go undiagnosed for years. Chronic, untreated or undiagnosed hepatitis C can lead to complications like liver damage — such as cirrhosis (scarring of the liver) — and liver cancer, causing hepatitis symptoms to finally appear.

Signs of Hepatitis C: Jaundice

Jaundice is a visible symptom of liver damage, characterized by yellowing of the skin and the whites of the eyes. Jaundice occurs when bilirubin, a yellow-pigmented waste product of red blood cells, isn’t filtered properly from the body.

Normally, the liver helps to rid the body of bilirubin; when the liver is damaged, bilirubin accumulates in the body, causing visible changes in skin and eye color. If you experience jaundice, consult a medical professional, as you’re most likely suffering from liver damage.

Hepatitis Symptoms: Cirrhosis

If you have hepatitis C, you may experience no symptoms until you develop advanced cirrhosis, or scarring of the liver. Common symptoms of cirrhosis include:

  • Easy bruising or bleeding
  • Fluid accumulation in the abdomen
  • Nausea or loss of appetite
  • Weight loss.

In some cases, cirrhosis may lead to liver cancer or liver failure.

Signs of Hepatitis C: Cryoglobulinemia

Chronic hepatitis C is also associated with a rare condition called cryoglobulinemia. Symptoms include joint pain, skin lesions, fatigue and Raynaud’s phenomenon (blood vessel spasms causing reduced blood flow to the extremities).

Resources

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2010). HCV FAQs for health professionals. Retrieved September 24, 2010, from http://www.cdc.gov/hepatitis/HCV/HCVfaq.htm#.

Mayo Clinic. (n.d.). Cirrhosis: Symptoms. Retrieved September 24, 2010, from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/cirrhosis/DS00373/DSECTION=symptoms.

Medline Plus. (n.d.). Cryoglobulinemia. Retrieved September 21, 2010, from http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000540.htm.

Merck. (2006). Jaundice. Retrieved September 21, 2010, from http://www.merck.com/mmhe/sec10/ch135/ch135b.html.