Hepatitis C Symptoms

Hepatitis C is a viral infection that can cause serious complications affecting the liver. Many people with the disease have no symptoms and do not know they are infected, yet they can spread the infection to others.

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What is Hepatitis C?

Hepatitis C is an infection caused by the hepatitis C virus (HCV), which infects the liver. There are five different hepatitis viruses: A, B, C, D, and E. “Hepatitis” is defined as inflammation of the liver, thus all of these viruses have a negative effect on the liver. Hepatitis B and C can be transmitted through sexual contact.

Hepatitis C can be either acute (generally a short-term illness occurring within the first six months of exposure) or chronic (a lifelong infection if left untreated) and can affect the liver in ways that range from mild to serious. While hepatitis C symptoms are often short-lived and rarely result in death, chronic HCV, when the virus remains in the body, can lead to life-threatening complications such as cirrhosis (scarring) or cancer of the liver.

How do I know if I have hepatitis C?

Self-diagnosing hepatitis C in the earliest stages is essentially impossible as symptoms rarely occur. When symptoms do occur, they may include jaundice, fatigue, nausea, and general aches and discomfort. These early symptoms generally appear one to three months after initial exposure and can last anywhere between a few weeks and several months.

As hepatitis C progresses, infected persons may become prone to bleeding and bruising, jaundice, dark urine, and fatigue among other symptoms. If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, or if you believe you’ve been inadvertently exposed to hepatitis C, it is best to find a reputable testing service and, if confirmed, consult with your physician.

How is hepatitis C contracted?

Hepatitis C is spread primarily through the transfer of infected blood from one person to another. Transfers can occur by way of sharing syringes or getting a piercing or tattoo from a needle that has not been properly sterilized. Sharing grooming or personal hygiene items like razors or toothbrushes can also put one at risk of contracting hepatitis C. Blood transfusions or other medical procedures are considered very low risk now that blood donors are screened carefully prior to donating. It is also possible, although rare, for hepatitis C to be spread by way of sex. Men who have sex with men are statistically at the highest risk of contracting hepatitis C through sexual activity.

Can you get hepatitis C from kissing?

No, you cannot contract hepatitis C through kissing. As the virus is not transmissible through saliva, you need not worry about contracting hepatitis C through kissing or sharing drinks or utensils. Similarly, you are not at risk through casual contact (handshakes, hugs, etc.) or by touching public services (elevator buttons, doorknobs, etc.)

Can anyone contract hepatitis C?

There’s no such thing as a natural immunity to hepatitis C, nor is there an effective vaccine in existence (unlike hepatitis A and hepatitis B), so anyone is technically susceptible to contracting the virus. The best way to avoid contracting hepatitis C is to understand how it is transmitted and to avoid situations that could put you at risk.

How Is hepatitis C prevented?

While there are vaccines for both hepatitis A and B, there is no vaccine for hepatitis C. The best way to prevent hepatitis C is by being aware of how the virus spreads.

HCV lives in the bloodstream and is most commonly transmitted through exposure to infected blood, especially with sharing of needles. This can include the highly risky practice of sharing needles for intravenous drug usage as well as getting a tattoo or piercing with contaminated equipment. Make sure you are playing it safe and only going to reputable and clean providers of these services.

HCV can be transmitted through sexual contact, although the risk of catching HCV through sexual activity (whether vaginal, anal, or oral) is less common than with other STDs. Men who have sex with men, especially if they are HIV+, are at increased risk of getting hepatitis C through sexual activity. Having multiple partners or rough sex also raises the chances of contracting HCV through sexual activity. You can avoid infection by using a variety of safer sex practices, including using latex condoms, reducing your number of partners, being in a mutually monogamous relationship, and even abstinence.

People who live in the same household should not share razors or toothbrushes with anyone who has or may have hepatitis C as these items can potentially come in contact with infected blood (nicks while shaving or bleeding gums while brushing). Hepatitis C is not spread by casual contact like hugging and is not contracted through everyday occurrences like touching doorknobs or sitting on toilet seats.
Years ago, HCV was easily spread through blood transfusions and organ transplants. However, since the screening processes for blood donation have dramatically improved over the past three decades, contracting hepatitis C, or any other blood-borne virus for that matter, via a medical procedure highly improbable.

Do condoms protect against hepatitis C?

While hepatitis C is rarely spread through sexual intercourse anyway, using condoms properly will all but eliminate the risk entirely. Keep in mind that other infections and viruses are spread almost exclusively by way of sexual contact and you’ll want to research the effectiveness of condoms in preventing these diseases as well.

What do hepatitis C symptoms look like?

The majority of people who contract HCV will not have any symptoms. For those who do, the symptoms range from mild to severe and can include fever, fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, jaundice, dark urine, joint pain, and clay-colored bowel movements. More extreme (and less frequent) symptoms include itchy skin, swelling in the abdomen and legs, weight loss, confusion or slurred speech, spider angiomas, and the potential for easy bruising or bleeding.

For many people, their immune systems can fight off the infection. For some people, hepatitis C stays with them for their entire lives. This is known as chronic hepatitis C.

Chronic hepatitis C can cause cirrhosis (scarring) of the liver, even if someone doesn’t have any symptoms. When symptoms develop in people with chronic hepatitis C, they are usually due to liver damage and are also listed below.

Hepatitis C symptoms can begin to show as soon as 2 weeks after infection, though the average is up to 12 weeks.

What can I expect when I get tested for hepatitis C?

Hepatitis C is diagnosed with a blood test that looks for antibodies to HCV (made by your immune system), which will show that your body has reacted to the virus. It may take up to 10 weeks for your body to develop these antibodies after you are exposed to the virus, so it is possible to have a false negative test result during this time. If the first test shows that you were exposed to HCV, a second blood test is done to confirm the results. If you are confirmed to have hepatitis C, you will also have blood tests to check for liver damage.

With Priority STD Testing, simply select the hepatitis C test you need (or a panel option that includes a hepatitis C test) from our online catalog, find the closest testing facility, and stop by at your convenience. Tests take only a few minutes and most people are in and out in under a half hour. In most cases, you’ll have your results in as little as 24-72 hours.

What can I expect from hepatitis C treatment?

Treatment for hepatitis C depends on how severe the infection is, the subtype of HCV, how long someone has had the infection, whether or not there is already liver damage, and other medical conditions or treatments someone has had. Treatment for acute hepatitis C is usually not needed. For people with chronic HCV, antiviral medication for 8 – 12 weeks is recommended; it cures the infection in 80-90% of people.

Many people with chronic hepatitis C will have damage to their livers. Part of the treatment involves protecting the liver from further damage. Hepatitis A and B vaccines may be recommended. Check with your doctor regarding which vitamins, medications, and supplements are safe; some may cause liver damage. People with chronic HCV should also avoid alcohol.

Is hepatitis C curable?

Yes! While there’s no vaccine for hepatitis C, it can certainly be cured with the right antiviral prescription medications. In some instances in which a person shows no symptoms and doesn’t seek out testing, they can rid themselves of the virus in its acute condition even without treatment. Of course you’ll want to err on the side of caution, get tested when appropriate, and consult your physician if necessary.

What happens if hepatitis C goes untreated?

If left untreated, hepatitis C can develop into chronic hepatitis which lasts a lifetime. Those with chronic hepatitis C are at a significantly higher risk of liver damage, cirrhosis (scarring of the liver), and liver cancer.

How will hepatitis C affect my pregnancy?

Only a small percentage of babies born to mothers with hepatitis C contract the disease. The virus is usually passed from mother to baby during delivery, and this is more likely for women who have HIV. Children can be tested for HCV but not until they are at least 18 months old. If you are a nursing mother with hepatitis C, you need not worry as the virus is not contained in nor passed through breast milk.

How do I get tested for hepatitis C?

Getting tested for hepatitis C involves a simple blood test which can be ordered from the Priority STD site and administered at any one of our 4,000+ testing facilities. Results are typically available in just 24-72 hours.

Can I Take an at home hepatitis C test?

While there are at-home testing options for hepatitis C, be warned that administering a test yourself can certainly affect the accuracy of your results. Be wary of at-home options that are not approved by the FDA. Though many brands will claim to be just as accurate as any other option, the truth is you simply don’t know what you’re getting. In addition, in using a self-administered testing kit, directions can sometimes be unclear which can lessen your chances of an accurate reading. The best case when it comes to accurate hepatitis C testing is to find a reputable STD testing service and let the experts handle the process start to finish.

What if I have additional questions?

If you have questions about the hepatitis C testing process, or are wondering if you should get tested, contact one of our Priority STD Testing care counselors. They’ll be able assist you in finding the right tests, understanding your results, and planning for future steps to get you back on the path to wellness.

How is Hepatitis C Prevented?

While there are vaccines for both hepatitis A and B, there is no vaccine for hepatitis C. The best way to prevent hepatitis C is by being aware of how the virus spreads.

HCV lives in the bloodstream and is most commonly transmitted through exposure to infected blood, especially with sharing of needles. This can include IV drug use but also includes unregulated or amateur tattooing and piercing. Do not share needles. 

HCV can be transmitted through sexual contact, although the risk of catching HCV through sexual activity (whether vaginal, anal, or oral) is less common than with other STDs. Men who have sex with men, though, especially if they are HIV+, are at increased risk of getting hepatitis C through sexual activity.  Having multiple partners or rough sex also raises the chances of contracting HCV through sexual activity. You can avoid infection by using a variety of safer sex practices, including using latex condoms, reducing your number of partners, being in a mutually monogamous relationship, and even abstinence.   

People who live in the same household should not share razors or toothbrushes with anyone who has or may have hepatitis C; these items are sometimes exposed to blood (nicks in the skin, bleeding gums). Hepatitis C is not spread by casual contact like hugging. 

Years ago, HCV was easily spread through blood transfusions and organ transplants. Thanks to the screening of donated blood, transmission of hepatitis C to someone receiving a blood donation after 1992 is rare.

What do Hepatitis C Symptoms Look Like?

The majority of people who contract HCV will not have any symptoms. For those who do, the symptoms range from mild to severe and are listed below.

For many people, their immune systems can fight off the infection. For some people, though, they will never get rid of the virus, and this is known as chronic hepatitis C.

Chronic hepatitis C can cause cirrhosis (scarring) of the liver, even if someone doesn’t have any symptoms. When symptoms develop in people with chronic hepatitis C, they are usually due to liver damage and are also listed below. 

Hepatitis C symptoms can begin to show as soon as 2 weeks after infection, though the average is up to 12 weeks.

What Can I Expect When I Get Tested for Hepatitis C?

Hepatitis C is diagnosed with a blood test that looks for antibodies to HCV (made by your immune system), which will show that your body has reacted to the virus. It may take up to 10 weeks for your body to develop these antibodies after you are exposed to the virus, so it is possible to have a false negative test result during this time. If the first test shows that you were exposed to HCV, a second blood test is done to confirm the results. If you are confirmed to have hepatitis C, you will also have blood tests to check for liver damage.

What Can I Expect From Hepatitis C Treatment?

Treatment for hepatitis C depends on how severe the infection is, the subtype of HCV, how long someone has had the infection, whether or not there is already liver damage, and other medical conditions or treatments someone has had. Treatment for acute hepatitis C is usually not needed. For people with chronic HCV, antiviral medication for 8 – 12 weeks is recommended; it cures the infection in 80-90% of people.

Many people with chronic hepatitis C will have damage to their livers. Part of the treatment involves protecting the liver from further damage.  Hepatitis A and B vaccines may be recommended. Check with your doctor regarding which vitamins, medications, and supplements are safe; some may cause liver damage. People with chronic HCV should also avoid alcohol.

How Will Hepatitis C Affect My Pregnancy?

Only a small percentage of babies born to mothers with Hepatitis C contract the disease. The virus is usually passed from mother to baby during delivery, and this is more likely for women who have HIV.  Children can be tested for HCV but not until they are at least 18 months old. Hepatitis C does not affect breast milk.

Sources: CDCCDC-2ACOG.orgCDC-3

Medically reviewed by Amy Cyr, MD
Reviewed on October 11, 2019
Hepatitis C Symptoms
  • No noticeable symptoms

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