How Does Hepatitis C Affect Your Liver?

Medically Reviewed by Jennifer Robinson, MD on November 19, 2020

In most cases, you won't have symptoms of hepatitis C until your liver becomes really damaged. That can take a long time -- years or even decades.

If you have the disease for many years and don't get treatment, you may get cirrhosis. This is a condition that inflames and scars the liver.

Symptoms of Cirrhosis

In cirrhosis, scar tissue replaces healthy liver tissue. If this continues unchecked, scarring blocks blood flow through the organ. That makes it hard for it to do its many jobs:

  • Remove harmful toxins from your blood
  • Fight infection
  • Digest food and process nutrients, hormones, and drugs
  • Make proteins to control blood clotting
  • Store energy

When this happens, you may have symptoms such as:

When Cirrhosis Gets Worse

As cirrhosis worsens, you’re more likely to have symptoms like these:

  • Yellow eyes and skin (jaundice)
  • Itchy skin
  • Bleeding that takes longer to stop
  • Easy bruising
  • Spider-like blood vessels on your skin
  • Fluid buildup and swelling in your legs (edema)
  • Fluid buildup or bloating in your abdomen (ascites)

Go to the ER, or call 911 and tell them you have cirrhosis if you have these symptoms:

  • Vomiting blood 
  • Black, tarry stools
  • Confused and sleepy
  • Fever and chills
  • Your eyes suddenly turn yellow

Complications from cirrhosis include:

  • Greater sensitivity to drugs
  • Problems fighting infection
  • A low white blood cell or platelet count
  • Symptoms of type 2 diabetes
  • Kidney and lung failure
  • Increased risk of liver cancer
  • Gallstones

A failing liver may also allow toxins to build up in the brain (hepatic encephalopathy). Symptoms of this buildup may include:

  • Confusion
  • Personality changes
  • Memory loss
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Changes in sleep habits
  • Trembling and hand flapping

Show Sources


National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse: "What I need to know about Hepatitis C," "Cirrhosis," and "What I need to know about cirrhosis."

CDC: "Hepatitis C Basics" and "Hepatitis C FAQs for the Public."

Department of Veterans Affairs: "Cirrhosis: A "Patient's Guide."

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