Hepatitis C is essentially an infection that causes significant inflammation of the liver.
Currently, approximately 3.5 million Americans are living with chronic hepatitis C. Although this infection can be treated with various antiviral drugs, chronic hepatitis C does cause liver damage over time.
Unfortunately, most people infected with hepatitis C are unaware during the earliest stages because the symptoms are very mild. When symptoms do surface, they typically develop within the first two weeks to six months. If you’re concerned that you have been infected, here is the step-by-step process to better understand the signs and symptoms.
- Step one: Understand your risk
There are certain situations and circumstances that increase your risk of infection, including:
- Sharing drug paraphernalia, including straws and needles
- Getting tattoo work done in an unsterile environment
- Received a blood transfusion before July 1992
- Having a mother with HCV at the time of birth
- Having unprotected sex with multiple partners
- Being a healthcare worker who has been stuck accidentally with a contaminated needle
- Step two: Know that there is both acute and chronic hepatitis C
In some cases, people only get hepatitis C for a short period of time (i.e. six months). This is what’s referred to as acute hepatitis C, and those infected may not even know that they contracted it. In fact, up to 80 percent of those living with acute hepatitis C will not show any symptoms at all.
With that being said, the majority of people (75 to 85 percent) develop chronic hepatitis C. At this point, up to 70 percent of those living with chronic hepatitis C will develop liver disease and up to 20 percent will develop cirrhosis of the liver within 20 to 30 years.
- Step three: Identify possible symptoms
When signs do develop, they are typically mild and resemble flu-like symptoms. These include:
- Stomach pain
- Joint pain
- Fever (typically 100.5 degrees F or higher)
- Achy muscles
- Dark urine
- Poor appetite
- Jaundice, causing the yellowing of the skin
Please note: Even if you are not showing symptoms, you can still spread the virus to others. It is possible that you experience symptoms that subside, only to return later on. The key here is, just because symptoms are not apparent, does not mean that you’re not infected.
- Step four: Pay attention to worsening symptoms
Once you develop chronic hepatitis C, symptoms may worsen — however, others showcase symptoms that are barely noticeable. For example, your mood may worsen as you experience increased feelings of depression and anxiety. Pain can become more severe and in some cases, cognitive functioning is impacted (i.e. Poor memory and increased brain fog).
- Step five: Address your concerns as soon as possibble
Like any health issue, the earlier you address your concerns, the better. Currently, cure rates are around 50 percent, which often requires years of treatment. However, many patients do recover in approximately 12 to 24 weeks. Since there is no “one-size-fits-all” treatment plan, you will need to work closely with your doctor in order to develop the best action plan for you and the genotype of hepatitis C you have.
If you are concerned about your liver health, you can also request a number of tests that will help you understand the level of damage. From there, you can intervene to improve liver function — especially in terms of your lifestyle choices.