Hepatitis C: Disease course and symptoms

Overview

In both acute and chronic hepatitis C infection, people may experience symptoms such as:

  • exhaustion
  • pain in the limbs
  • nausea
  • flatulence
  • feelings of fullness
  • pain in the abdomen
  • loss of appetite
  • pale-coloured stools or dark urine.

People with chronic hepatitis C may also develop dry or itchy skin, memory loss or problems concentrating, depression and sleep problems.

Some people have hepatitis C for many years before the first symptoms appear. As a result of this, chronic hepatitis C often goes undetected for a long period of time.

The virus uses the liver cells to multiply, but does not harm it directly. The immune system then detects the cells infected with the virus and destroys them. The liver becomes inflamed, which is a sign that the liver cells are being destroyed.

Untreated chronic hepatitis can lead to a scarring, or hardening, of the liver tissue over years or even decades.

The absence or presence of symptoms does not predict the speed at which liver damage will progress.

This information was originally adapted from Hepatitis C: Understanding a silent killer, published by the European Liver Patients Association. It was updated in 2016.