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What are the Common Effects of Hepatitis C?

Gregory Hanson
Gregory Hanson

Hepatitis C is a blood borne viral infection specific to humans. During the initial period after infection, the effects of hepatitis C are often hard to spot, and it is frequently entirely asymptomatic. When it does present with symptoms, those symptoms are generally non-specific and do not allow a clear diagnosis because they are similar to the symptoms caused by many other viral infections. When hepatitis C has fully taken root, it presents with chronic symptoms predominantly related to the liver, most typically, scarring of the liver that eventually develops into cirrhosis and results in liver failure.

The majority of initial infections with hepatitis C are not accompanied by symptoms. In the event that symptoms do occur during this first phase of infection, the can resemble those caused by a wide range of viral infections. Flu-like symptoms, including fever, malaise, and loss of appetite are common. Jaundice, darkened urine, clay-colored fecal matter and stomach pains may also appear. These acute symptoms will appear within 24 weeks of initial exposure and generally sooner. These effects of hepatitis C, however, should not be relied on for diagnostic purposes, as they appear comparatively rarely and are often sub-clinical in severity.

A human liver.
A human liver.

The effects of hepatitis C over the long term most often involve damage to the liver and associated bodily systems. In most cases, liver damage progresses very slowly, with damage taking decades to produce health effects. Cirrhosis of the liver is the most common medical condition associated with long-term hepatitis C infection. Roughly two of every three patients suffering from hepatitis C will eventually develop cirrhosis, but this typically takes two decades to manifest itself. Cirrhosis caused by hepatitis C produces the same symptoms, including bleeding, abdominal fluid buildup and jaundice, as cirrhosis caused by any other condition.

Types of liver disease, including fibrosis and cirrhosis, complications of hepatitis.
Types of liver disease, including fibrosis and cirrhosis, complications of hepatitis.

A small number of patients may experience secondary symptoms from a hepatitis C infection. These symptoms are likely the result of collateral damage caused by the body’s immune response to the hepatitis infection. Diabetes and kidney disease are among the conditions that can be caused in this fashion, but these secondary effects of hepatitis C are comparatively rare.

As with all viral infections, certain factors can exacerbate the effects of hepatitis C. Patients with compromised immune systems will suffer more serious and rapid harm from the disease. The use of alcohol and certain medications that place an additional burden on the liver can also worsen the impact of hepatitis C or reduce the amount of time before cirrhosis is fully manifest.

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    • A human liver.
      A human liver.
    • Types of liver disease, including fibrosis and cirrhosis, complications of hepatitis.
      By: peterjunaidy
      Types of liver disease, including fibrosis and cirrhosis, complications of hepatitis.