Hepatitis C Signs and Symptoms
Hepatitis C is an infection which attacks the liver and causes inflammation. It is classified as an infectious disease caused by a virus known as the hepatitis C virus or HCV. But what are the signs and symptoms of hepatitis C? Commonly, patients aren’t even aware that they have contracted this infection, because HCV is often asymptomatic.
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By asymptomatic, this means that usually isn’t any hepatitis C signs and symptoms. It’s not uncommon for hepatitis treatment to begin years after initial exposure to the virus. With a lack of symptoms, many patients aren’t diagnosed with hepatitis C until after they have developed significant liver damage.
While many cases of hepatitis C tend to asymptomatic, chronic infections can occur in patients. These infections can cause liver scarring and eventually cirrhosis. There are several types of hepatitis, but hepatitis C is considered to be the most severe. This disease is passed through contact with HCV contaminated blood. It is widely known that many cases of HCV were contrived through the sharing of needles that were used for illegal drugs.
Common Symptoms of Hepatitis C
In about 15% of hepatitis C cases, the infection will cause acute symptoms in the patient. These symptoms tend to be mild and flu-like, so many people may not think too much about them. In about 10 to 15% of cases the infection resolves itself spontaneously, but this more frequently occurs in patients who are young and female.
Acute hepatitis C signs and symptoms include:
- Loss of appetite
- Muscle or joint pain
- Weight loss
- Tenderness around the liver
The majority of people who are exposed to the HCV virus will develop a chronic infection. Unfortunately, most patients will experience little or no symptoms in the first several years of having the disease. In recent hepatitis C research, medical researchers have found that fatigue has been associated with chronic hepatitis C. Either way, after many years this chronic infection becomes the primary cause of liver cancer and cirrhosis. About 10 to 30% of those with a chronic hepatitis C infection will develop cirrhosis over a 30 year period.
Cirrhosis is an even higher risk for:
- Co-infected patients with HIV or hepatitis B
For the patients who do end up developing cirrhosis, their risk of getting a hepatocellular carcinoma goes up 20 fold. If any of these patients are also alcoholics than that risk is increased an additional 100 fold, and for that reason doctors have repeatedly urged people with hepatitis C to watch their alcohol intake.
Liver Cirrhosis can lead to many other medical complications including:
- Accumulation of fluid in the abdomen (hydroperitoneum)
- Enlarged veins
- Easy bruising or bleeding
- Portal hypertension
- Can cause a syndrome of cognitive impairment known as hepatic encephalopathy
- Commonly requires a liver transplant
The Primary Causes of Hepatitis C Infection
As mentioned earlier, hepatitis C is caused by the hepatitis C virus (HCV). This virus is spread through contact with contaminated blood. HCV is a small, single-stranded, enveloped, positive sense RNA virus of the family Flaviviridae. These hepatitis viruses are all members of the hepacivirus genus of that family. Medical researchers have discovered seven major genotypes of the HCV virus, and about 70% of the American cases of hepatitis C are caused by the first HCV genotype.
With a lack of hepatitis C symptoms in most cases, the cause of transmission remains unknown in a significant number of cases. In the world today, the hepatitis C infection is spread primarily through:
- Shared needles: This still remains one of the highest risk factors for contracting hepatitis C. Sharing needles while injecting drugs for multiple reasons is extremely risky.
- Childbirth: Some babies are at risk of becoming infected during childbirth if their mothers have the hepatitis C virus.
- Sexually Transmitted: Though rare, HCV can still be sexually transmitted.
- Tattoos: Believe it or not, but tattooing has been associated with a sizeable increased risk of contracting hepatitis C. The primary concern is tattoo parlors that do not take the necessary care to properly clean and sterilize their equipment.
- Contaminated Personal Care Items: Any items used for personal care like razors, toothbrushes, manicure or pedicure items can come into contact with HCV blood. The chances of contracting HCV through these means are very rare, but caution should be taken regarding the sharing of these items.
- Developing Countries: There is still a risk of contracting hepatitis C from blood transfusions or other botched medical procedures. With improved blood screening tests available since 1992, this has not been much of an issue in developed countries.