Hepatitis C

Book an Appointment

Overview

Hepatitis C is a liver infection caused by the hepatitis C virus (HCV). Hepatitis C is spread through contact with blood from an infected person. Today, most people become infected with the hepatitis C virus by sharing needles or other equipment used to prepare and inject drugs. For some people, hepatitis C is a short-term illness, but for more than half of people who become infected with the hepatitis C virus, it becomes a long-term, chronic infection. Chronic hepatitis C can result in serious, even life-threatening health problems like cirrhosis and liver cancer. People with chronic hepatitis C can often have no symptoms and don’t feel sick. When symptoms appear, they often are a sign of advanced liver disease. There is no vaccine for hepatitis C. The best way to prevent hepatitis C is by avoiding behaviors that can spread the disease, especially injecting drugs. Getting tested for hepatitis C is important, because treatments can cure most people with hepatitis C in 8 to 12 weeks.

Symptoms

Bleeding easily.

Bruising easily.

Fatigue.

Poor appetite.

Yellow discoloration of the skin and eyes (jaundice)

Dark-colored urine.

Itchy skin.

Fluid buildup in your abdomen (ascites)

Causes

Hepatitis C is a liver infection caused by the hepatitis C virus (HCV). Hepatitis C is spread through contact with blood from an infected person. Today, most people become infected with the hepatitis C virus by sharing needles or other equipment used to prepare and inject drugs.


Risk factors

Are a health care worker who has been exposed to infected blood, which may happen if an infected needle pierces your skin.

Have ever injected or inhaled illicit drugs.

Have HIV.

Received a piercing or tattoo in an unclean environment using unsterile equipment.

Calendar Schedule

Have a medical question?

We are available to help you with all your questions and concerns.

Complications

If left untreated, hepatitis C can sometimes cause scarring of the liver (cirrhosis). This can develop up to 20 years or more after you first become infected.


A number of things can increase your risk of getting cirrhosis, including:


drinking alcohol

smoking

being overweight

having type 2 diabetes

getting hepatitis C at an older age

having HIV

having another type of hepatitis, such as hepatitis B

Overall, up to 1 in every 3 people infected with hepatitis C will develop cirrhosis within 20 to 30 years. Some of these will then go on to develop liver failure or liver cancer.


Cirrhosis

If you have cirrhosis, the scarred tissue in your liver gradually replaces healthy tissue and prevents the liver from working properly.


There are usually few symptoms in the early stages. But as your liver loses its ability to function properly, you may experience:


tiredness and weakness

loss of appetite

weight loss

feeling sick

very itchy skin

tenderness or pain in your tummy

tiny red lines (blood capillaries) on the skin

yellowing of the skin or whites of the eyes (jaundice)

There's no cure for cirrhosis. However, lifestyle measures and hepatitis C medications can help stop the condition getting worse.


Read more about treating cirrhosis.


Liver failure

In severe cases of cirrhosis, the liver loses most or all of its functions. This is known as liver failure or end-stage liver disease.


Each year, around 1 in every 20 people with hepatitis-associated cirrhosis will develop liver failure.


Symptoms of liver failure include:


hair loss

build-up of fluid in the legs, ankles and feet (oedema)

build-up of fluid in your tummy (ascites)

dark urine

black, tarry poo or very pale poo

frequent nosebleeds and bleeding gums

bruising easily

the whites of your eyes turning yellow, or your skin turning yellow, although this may be less noticeable on black or brown skin

vomiting blood

It's usually possible to live with liver failure for several years by taking medication. However, a liver transplant is currently the only way to cure the condition.


Liver cancer

Having hepatitis-associated cirrhosis increases your risk of developing liver cancer.


Symptoms of liver cancer can include:


loss of appetite

unintentional weight loss

tiredness

feeling and being sick

pain or swelling in your tummy

jaundice


Prevention

The best way to prevent HCV infection is to avoid contact with contaminated blood. Hepatitis C can spread when a person comes into contact with blood from an infected person. Injecting drugs is the most common way HCV is transmitted in the United States.