Complications from Untreated Hepatitis C

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About 80% of people who contract the hepatitis C virus have no symptoms during the acute phase. For some of them, this liver infection will clear up by itself within six months. But 75 to 85% of people with the virus develop chronic hepatitis C. For them, the untreated disease can lead to complications and even death.

Effects on the Liver

When hepatitis C remains in the body, it works slowly on the liver over time, leading to liver damage and possibly liver failure.

Because people with hepatitis C usually look and feel healthy, they can live with the illness for years or even decades without knowing it. This can lead to cirrhosis, or liver scarring, and liver cancer. In fact, hepatitis C is the leading cause of cirrhosis and liver cancer in the United States. About 15,000 people die from hepatitis C–related liver diseases each year.

Other Effects

In a small percentage of people, chronic infection with hepatitis C leads to health problems not related to the liver. These include:

Risk Factors for Hepatitis C

Unfortunately, many people who have hepatitis C don’t know it until their liver is already damaged. That’s why it’s important for people who have risk factors for hepatitis C to be tested.

Talk with your doctor about testing if you:

  • Are infected with HIV

  • Are on long-term hemodialysis treatment

  • Have had abnormal liver tests or liver disease

  • Have ever injected illicit drugs, even once

  • Received a blood transfusion or organ transplant before July 1992

  • Were born between 1945 and 1965

  • Were treated for a blood clotting problem before 1987

  • Work in health care or public safety and have been exposed to blood through a needle stick or sharp object injury

Key Takeaways

  • Because people with hepatitis C usually look and feel healthy, they can live with the virus for decades without knowing it. This can lead to cirrhosis, or liver scarring, and liver cancer.

  • In a small percentage of people, chronic infection with hepatitis C leads to other health problems such as diabetes; fragile, blistering skin; kidney disease; and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

  • Unfortunately, many people don’t know they have hepatitis C until their liver is already damaged. That’s why it’s important to get tested if you have risk factors for the virus.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2019 Oct 3

  1. Hepatitis C FAQs for the Public. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/hepatitis/hcv/cfaq.htm

  2. Hepatitis C FAQs for Health Professionals. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/hepatitis/hcv/hcvfaq.htm

  3. Hepatitis C. World Health Organization. http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs164/en

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