Hepatitis C Stages and Progression

Hepatitis C is a liver infection caused by the hepatitis C virus. It can be mild or serious. It can last just a few weeks or for a lifetime.

Hepatitis C can cause both acute and chronic infections. There is no vaccine to stop hep C, but most cases can be treated.

Acute Hepatitis C

These infections are short-term. They usually happen within 6 months of exposure to the virus.

Symptoms: Often you won't even know you have acute hepatitis C because it usually doesn't cause symptoms. If you do have some, they usually last from 2 weeks to 3 months. They might include:

Complications: Sometimes your body is able to fight off the hepatitis C virus, and it just goes away. But between 75% and 85% of people who are infected with the hepatitis C virus have their acute infection become a chronic infection.

Treatment: In many cases, acute hepatitis C isn’t treated. Your doctor will keep a close eye on you to see if your body fights the infection, or if it turns into chronic hep C.

But sometimes, you and your doctor will decide to aggressively treat the virus. In that case, you may take antiviral medicine.

Lifestyle management: When you have hep C, you can do things to stay healthy and keep other people from becoming infected.

  • Stop drinking alcohol. It can cause more liver damage.
  • Talk to your doctor about any medicines you are taking, including supplements. Some may cause liver damage.
  • Keep others from coming in contact with your blood:
  • Eat a healthy diet. It can help your immune system fight off problems.
  • Get regular exercise. It can also boost your immune system and help your overall health.

Chronic Hepatitis C

A chronic hepatitis C infection is long-term. It can last your whole life if it isn't treated.

Symptoms: Most of the time, people with this don’t have specific symptoms. If they do, they’re usually common things like fatigue. As a result, people don’t find out they have it until they donate blood or have their blood tested at a regular doctor’s visit.

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Complications: If you have hepatitis C for many years, or if it is untreated, it can cause serious problems, including

Treatment: Antiviral drugs can work to clear the virus from your body. You may take several medicines for a few months. You’ll see your doctor regularly and have blood tests while you take the drugs to make sure your body responds well to treatment.

About 90% of people are cured of hepatitis C with few side effects.

Lifestyle management: As with acute hepatitis C, you can do things to stay healthy and keep other people from being infected.

  • Don't drink alcohol. It can cause more damage to your liver.
  • Tell your doctor about any medicines or supplements you're taking. Some may cause liver damage.
  • To keep others from coming in contact with your blood, cover all wounds.
  • Don't share toothbrushes or razors.
  • Use condoms during sex.
  • Tell health care workers you have the virus.
  • Don't donate blood.
  • Eat a well-rounded diet. It can help your immune system fight off problems.
  • Exercise regularly. It can strengthen your immune system and keep you healthy.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Nayana Ambardekar, MD on September 12, 2018

Sources

SOURCES:

Mayo Clinic: "Hepatitis C."

World Health Organization: "Hepatitis C."

National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases: "Hepatitis C."

CDC: "Hepatitis C Questions and Answers for the Public."

American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases: "HCV Guidance: Recommendations for Testing, Managing, and Treating Hepatitis C."

American Liver Foundation: "Treating Hepatitis C."

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