6 Biggest Risks of Not Treating Hepatitis C

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Female doctor at hospital checking female patient's heart with stethoscope

You feel 100% fine, yet your doctor just told you that you have hepatitis C.

Confused? You are not alone.  About 3.2 million people in the United States have chronic hepatitis C virus infection, and most of them don’t have a clue. Like you, they feel and look absolutely fine.

With this as the backdrop, you may be questioning whether to even treat your hepatitis C, but the risks of not treating chronic hepatitis C far outweigh any of these concerns.

There are six big risks you take by not treating your hepatitis C today:

1. Your liver will only get worse.

Yes, you feel fine, but your blood work and liver biopsy could suggest that all is not well. If your doctor is recommending anti-viral treatment, it could mean that there is already evidence of liver damage. Treatment can prevent this damage from spiraling out of control. Today’s antiviral treatments can cure hepatitis C, if started early enough in the process.

2. You can spread hepatitis C even if you feel OK.

Hepatitis C is a contagious liver disease. It is spread through infected blood, which can occur via needlestick injuries, childbirth (if a mother is infected), and sometimes unprotected sex, among other risky behaviors. Untreated, your hepatitis C could spread and infect others including co-workers and your loved ones.

3. You will develop severe symptoms if left untreated.

While hepatitis C infection can start off silently, untreated hepatitis C comes out roaring. Some people will develop symptoms down the road including tiredness, nausea and vomiting, stomachache, and occasionally yellow eyes and skin, dark urine, and light-colored stools. These nuisance-like symptoms can seriously damage your quality of life. And hepatitis C doesn’t stop there. Left untreated, it will progress and cause more serious and potentially fatal liver disease.

4. You are risking your life.

This much we know: as many as 85% of people who are infected with hepatitis C will develop a chronic infection. Of these, up to 70% will develop a serious liver disease such as liver cirrhosis (scarring) or liver cancer. Hepatitis C is the leading cause of cirrhosis and liver cancer and the most common reason for liver transplantation in the United States. About 15,000 people die every year from hepatitis C related liver disease, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports. Given these odds, not treating hepatitis C is not worth the risk. Getting treated now can help stave off these potentially fatal consequences.

5. You may make your illness worse.

If you don’t treat your hepatitis C, there’s a good chance you are not taking other important doctor-recommended steps to keep your liver healthy. This should include monitoring your alcohol intake as well as being careful not to take too much acetaminophen, which is found in more than 600 over-the-counter and prescription medications. Each week, more than 50 million Americans use a medicine that contains acetaminophen. For people with hepatitis C, too much acetaminophen and/or alcohol can further damage an already stressed liver.

6. You will miss out on a cure.

Over the past decade much has changed regarding hepatitis C treatment and prognosis. Many people are afraid of side effects associated with hepatitis C medications, but today’s anti-virals cause far fewer problems than older drugs. What’s more, your doctor can provide easy-to-follow tips on how to manage any that come up during the course of your treatment. Importantly, hepatitis C treatment is not forever and a cure is possible. What are you waiting for?

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2019 Apr 26

  1. McGowan CE et al. A global view of hepatitis C: physician knowledge, opinions, and perceived barriers to care. Hepatology. 2013 Apr;57(4):1325-32. doi: 10.1002/hep.26246.

  2. How Long Does Treatment Last? The American Liver Foundation. http://hepc.liverfoundation.org/treatment/the-basics-about-hepatitis-c-treatment/how-long-does-treat...

  3. Hep C General Fact Sheet, Centers for Disease Control. http://www.cdc.gov/hepatitis/HCV/PDFs/HepCGeneralFactSheet.pdf

  4. Acetaminophen: How It's Used, Preventing Overdose and What We Can Do To Promote Safe Use. The Acetaminophen Awareness Coalition. http://www.knowyourdose.org/report

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