Hepatitis C is a sneaky virus. You may not have any symptoms at all. Most people don’t. Your doctor could check your liver and see only a little damage. You might not get diagnosed until he spots a problem with your liver enzymes after a routine blood test.
Early Signs and Symptoms of Acute Hepatitis C
The disease is called acute hepatitis C when you first get it. The symptoms are similar to those of the flu, but you might not have symptoms at all. If you do, they may include:
- Belly pain
- Clay-colored poop
- Dark urine
- Jaundice (yellow tint to your skin or eyes)
- Joint pain
- Poor appetite
Symptoms usually show up between 2 and 12 weeks after exposure to the virus.
Chronic Hepatitis C Symptoms
If you don’t get diagnosed and treated, you could have the disease for years and not know it. Doctors call this the chronic form, because it lasts a long time. Some people who've had it for a while get liver cancer or scarring of the liver, which is called cirrhosis.
In addition to the above symptoms, signs that your liver isn’t working the way it should include:
- Ascites -- fluid buildup in your belly
- Easy bleeding
- Easy bruising
- Hepatic encephalopathy -- confusion, drowsiness, and slurred speech
- Hives or rashes
- Itchy skin
- Spider angiomas -- spidery blood vessels under your skin
- Swollen legs
- Weight loss
Symptoms of Cirrhosis From Untreated Hepatitis C
You could get scarring of the liver, called cirrhosis, after you’ve had hepatitis C for 20 or 30 years. If you have it, you might:
- Retain water
- Bleed and bruise easily
- Notice skin and eyes turning yellow with jaundice
Does Hep C Always Become Chronic?
No. Doctors aren’t sure how it works, but between 15% and 25% of adults who have it clear the virus from their bodies without treatment. You might hear this called spontaneous clearance.
When to See the Doctor
If you have symptoms of hepatitis C or think you may have been exposed to the virus, make an appointment to be tested.
If you were born between 1945 and 1965, get checked.