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9 Symptoms Never to Ignore With Hepatitis C

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  • Many people who are exposed to the hepatitis C virus (HCV) develop acute hepatitis C (hep C) without even realizing they have it. That’s because most of them never experience any symptoms–or if they do, they experience mild symptoms that they don’t associate with an infection of the liver like hepatitis. The problem is, the vast majority of those infected will go on to develop chronic hepatitis C years later. Without treatment, that can put them at risk for developing very serious complications like cirrhosis, liver failure and even liver cancer.

    If you know you’ve been exposed to hep C, or if you know you’ve engaged in behavior that could raise your risk of exposure (like injecting illicit drugs or getting a tattoo in an unsterile environment), you might want to keep your eye out for common symptoms of hepatitis C infection. The challenge: these symptoms can often be subtle. You might mistake them for symptoms of another condition altogether, in fact.

  • 1
    Dark Yellow Urine
    View from outside bathroom of man in flannel pants urinating in toilet

    Dark-colored urine can be a sign you’re experiencing an acute hepatitis C infection. It might not develop right after your exposure, but you might notice it within one to three months post-exposure. If you notice your urine appears to be a very deep yellow color without any other explanation, you might consider checking with your doctor about getting tested for hep C.

  • 2
    Gray-Colored Stools
    Clean white toilet and toilet paper in bathroom

    Some experts use the phrase “clay-colored” to describe them. Either way, if your stool looks gray, rather than brown, it could be a sign that something’s wrong–and that something could be a hepatitis C infection.

  • 3
    Fatigue
    Woman in computer room sleeping

    Feeling exhausted? Overwhelmed by fatigue? This could be a sign you’ve been infected with hep C. You may also develop a fever around the same time. This is the kind of symptom that’s easy to blow off because so many other diseases and medical conditions cause fatigue and fever.

  • 4
    Joint Pain
    woman holding wrist

    Aching joints can be a sign of arthritis or age-related wear-and-tear. But it can also be a symptom of a hepatitis C infection. So can other types of pain, such as abdominal pain. However, while joint pain is not uncommon in people with hepatitis C, it could also be a sign of HCV-related rheumatic disease. People infected with hep C are at increased risk of developing rheumatic diseases like arthritis and other conditions that result from inflammation in the joints. A rheumatologist can recommend treatment for the rheumatic disease, often a drug used to treat other types of arthritis, and monitor you to make sure that the drug doesn’t have any adverse effects on your liver.

  • 5
    Nausea and Vomiting
    Man on couch with stomach pain

    We might be tempted to write off a bout of nausea and vomiting as a brush with a stomach virus. But these gastrointestinal disturbances could also herald a hepatitis C infection, especially if you experience them in tandem with some other symptoms.

  • 6
    Fluid Build-Up or Swelling
    Cropped image of older Caucasian male with hands crossed around abdomen

    You may start to notice a buildup of fluid in your abdomen, which is a condition known as ascites. That space between the lining of your abdomen and your abdominal organs doesn’t usually hold a lot of fluid, so when your abdomen begins to swell with fluid, that’s a sign something isn’t right. Additionally, your legs may start to swell. Both types of swelling can be a symptom of hep C infection. Your doctor may want to address the swelling by adjusting the amount of sodium in your diet or recommending a diuretic.

  • 7
    Loss of Appetite
    gettyimages-1151027198.jpg

    When food loses its appeal, it could be a symptom to take seriously. Poor appetite is often associated with hepatitis C infection. And when you don’t feel like eating, it can lead to weight loss or poor nutrition, which is why you want to discuss this with your doctor.

  • 8
    Jaundice
    yellow eyes

    Jaundice is the medical term for a yellow tint that develops in the whites of your eyes or your skin. It can be a sign of liver disease or it can develop when your liver has been damaged in some way. Jaundice might appear in tandem with muscle aches, fatigue, and fever, as symptoms of an acute case of hep C.

  • 9
    Easy Bruising or Bleeding
    older woman with arm bruise

    If you start to bruise easily or bleed without too much provocation, it could be a symptom of a hep C infection. A chronic hepatitis C infection can stay “silent” for many years before symptoms like these start to develop, heralding the development of liver disease.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 Mar 6
  1. Diagnosing Hepatitis C: Learn more about recognizing symptoms, testing and diagnosis, risk and prevention. American Liver Foundation. https://liverfoundation.org/for-patients/about-the-liver/diseases-of-the-liver/hepatitis-c/diagnosing-hepatitis-c/#signs-symptoms
  2. HCV and Rheumatic Disease. American College of Rheumatology. March 2019. https://www.rheumatology.org/I-Am-A/Patient-Caregiver/Diseases-Conditions/HCV-Rheumatic-Diseases
  3. Hepatitis C. Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/hepatitis-c/symptoms-causes/syc-20354278
  4. Hepatitis C. Medline Plus. https://medlineplus.gov/hepatitisc.html#
  5. Hepatitis C. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/liver-disease/viral-hepatitis/hepatitis-c
  6. Hepatitis C Questions and Answers for the Public. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/hepatitis/hcv/cfaq.htm
  7. Musialik J, et al. Taste and appetite disorders of chronic hepatitis C patients. European Journal of Gastroenterology and Hepatology. 2012 Dec;24(12):1400-5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22932161
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