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Hepatitis C - Common Questions Answered

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Hepatitis C - Common Questions Answered

4 min read


Hepatitis C is an infection of the liver caused by the hepatitis C virus. Read this article to know more about hepatitis C.

Written by

Dr. Davie Wong

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Sneha Kannan

Published At April 20, 2019
Reviewed AtJanuary 2, 2024


Hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver. The liver serves many functions in the body, including detoxification, digestion, protection against infection, protein and hormone production, and many more. Heavy alcohol use, certain medications, toxins, and infections can cause hepatitis. Persistent hepatitis can lead to scarring of the liver called cirrhosis. Cirrhosis occurs when the liver has been severely damaged. A cirrhotic liver does not function as well as a healthy liver. It can result in complications such as bleeding from the esophagus and stomach, yellowing of the skin (jaundice), and fluid accumulation in the abdomen.

What Is Hepatitis C?

Hepatitis C is an infection of the liver caused by the hepatitis C virus. Most patients will have little or no symptoms when they get infected. Often, patients can have hepatitis C for many years without knowing they have it. About 80 % of patients who get hepatitis C do not clear the infection on their own. When infection persists for over six months, it is called chronic hepatitis C. Hepatitis C slowly damages the liver over decades, leading to cirrhosis and liver cancer. The virus exists worldwide.

What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Hepatitis C?

Hepatitis C is a silent infection that persists unidentifiable for a long time. However, the common signs and symptoms of the condition are:

  • Easy bleeding.

  • Easy bruising.

  • Poor appetite.

  • Fatigue.

  • Jaundice (yellowish discoloration of the skin and eyes).

  • Dark-colored urine.

  • Itchy skin.

  • Weight loss.

  • Swelling of the legs.

How Is Hepatitis C Diagnosed?

Hepatitis C can be diagnosed using blood tests. One blood test detects the presence of an antibody directed against the virus, and the second test measures the amount of virus in your blood. A liver ultrasound is usually done to assess for cirrhosis or signs of liver cancer. Often, a FibroScan is also performed. This specialized machine measures the degree of fibrosis (scarring) in your liver.

How Is Hepatitis C Transmitted?

Most people do not know how they acquired hepatitis C. The virus is spread by contact with blood. Today, the most common way people get Hepatitis C is by sharing used needles, syringes, or any other equipment to inject drugs. Before widespread screening of blood donors in 1992, Hepatitis C was also spread through blood transfusions and organ transplants. Other methods of transmission are:

  • Getting body piercings or tattoos done with improperly sanitized equipment.

  • Sharing straws used for snorting cocaine.

  • Sharing toothbrushes, razors, or other things that could have blood on them.

  • Getting stuck with a sharp object that has contaminated blood on it.

  • Having sex with an infected person.

Hepatitis C is not transmitted by kissing or hugging, sneezing or coughing, skin-to-skin contact that does not involve blood, and sharing food and utensils.

Who Should Get Tested for Hepatitis C?

  • Individuals born between 1945 and 1965.

  • Individuals who received or donated blood before 1992.

  • Individuals who use injection drugs.

  • HIV patients.

  • Men who have sex with men (MSM).

  • Individuals with a history of past or present use of chronic hemodialysis.

  • History of or present incarceration.

  • Individuals who reside in a high-prevalence country.

  • Individual born to a mother with hepatitis C.

  • Individuals exposed to blood from a person with hepatitis C.

How Can Hepatitis C Infection Be Prevented?

Unfortunately, there is currently no vaccine. Prevention of blood exposure is the primary strategy. Do not share used needles or syringes. Do not share personal hygiene items that may have come into contact with a person’s infected blood, such as razors, toothbrushes, nail clippers, or glucose monitors. Do not get tattoos or piercings from an unlicensed facility.

Preventing Further Liver Damage: If you have hepatitis C, avoiding other insults to your liver is essential. Avoid heavy alcohol consumption and get vaccinated for hepatitis A and B. Check with your healthcare provider before starting any new medications to ensure they are safe for your liver. Sometimes your doctor will also need to evaluate you for other liver diseases.

Is There a Cure for Hepatitis C?

Yes, the medications used to treat hepatitis C are highly effective, with up to a 100 % cure rate with little to no side effects. Treatment is usually prescribed by a gastroenterologist, hepatologist, infectious disease doctor, or another healthcare provider trained in hepatitis C management. A treatment course of 8 to12 weeks is usually sufficient to eradicate the hepatitis C virus. For some patients, a longer course of 16 or 24 weeks may be required to achieve a cure.

Can an Individual Get Re-Infected with Hepatitis C?

Yes, an individual can get hepatitis C again if exposed to infected blood. Being cured does not mean you cannot get the virus again. If you acquired hepatitis C from engaging in high-risk behaviors, it is essential to discontinue risky behaviors to avoid reinfection.

What Should a Pregnant Woman Do if She Has Hepatitis C?

Unfortunately, about 5 % of pregnant women pass on the virus to their babies. Currently, hepatitis C treatment has not been studied in pregnancy, so it is unknown if the drugs are safe. Therefore, it is usually best to wait until the mother delivers before starting hepatitis C treatment. The baby will require serial blood tests to check if they have become infected.

If you are planning pregnancy, it is best to get treated for hepatitis C before you conceive.

Can a Mother Breastfeed if She Is Infected With Hepatitis C?

She can breastfeed as long as her nipples are not cracked or bleeding.

Can Breastfeeding Mothers Take Hepatitis C Medications?

It is unknown if hepatitis C medications pass into the breastmilk. It is still possible to receive treatment for hepatitis C while breastfeeding, but it is unknown what effects the medicines will have on the baby. The safest approach is to complete breastfeeding before starting hepatitis C treatment.


Many people with HCV are unaware of the infection since they do not have symptoms. And it may take certain decades to appear. To avoid this unawareness, doctors recommend that every healthy or unhealthy individual between the ages of 18 to 79 get screened for hepatitis C. This early identification of the virus would help prevent transmission and treatment of the affected individual.

Frequently Asked Questions


Is Hepatitis C Now Curable?

More than 95 percent of people with hepatitis C can be cured. However, to prevent liver damage and further spread, individuals with positive test results for hepatitis C should be treated with direct-acting antiviral (DAA) medications.


Is Hepatitis C Considered to Be Terminal?

For some people, hepatitis C can be a short-term illness, but it becomes a long-term, chronic infection for more than half of those who get it. Cirrhosis and liver cancer are two serious, even fatal, health issues that can arise from chronic hepatitis C.


What Is the Life Expectancy for Hepatitis C?

After being diagnosed with hepatitis C, individuals can live for many years, though the range varies. According to a study, people with the hepatitis C virus died on average 15 years earlier than those who did not. Inflammation causes severe damage to the liver in hepatitis C.


How Long Does It Take for Liver Damage Due to Hepatitis C?

The liver is slowly damaged over many years by the hepatitis C virus, which frequently progresses from inflammation to permanent, irreversible scarring (cirrhosis). Before developing cirrhosis, many people with liver disease experience only mild or no symptoms for years or even decades. Liver damage typically occurs gradually over 20 to 30 years.


Hepatitis B or C, Which Is Worse?

Hepatitis B is much more prevalent and causes more liver-related cancer and death worldwide than hepatitis C. Together, chronic hepatitis B and C account for approximately 80 percent of all liver cancer cases worldwide. However, hepatitis C receives more attention and funding for research.


Is It Possible to Live a Full Life With Hepatitis C?

Hepatitis C patients can lead normal lives if treated and diagnosed early. Chronic hepatitis C, an infection that causes liver inflammation and scarring, affects between three and five million people in the United States.


Which Hepatitis Is Called a Silent Killer?

Both hepatitis B and C are called silent killers. It is because both are bloodborne infectious diseases and tend to be asymptomatic, which means a person might have the virus but may not know about it until it manifests itself much later.


How Does Hepatitis C Pain Feel?

Hepatitis C causes pain in the upper part of the abdomen. It results in generalized abdominal pains that can cause quite a severe discomfort. In addition, many people with chronic HCV have joint aches and pains. A wide range of joints can be involved, yet the most well-known are in the hands and wrists.


Which Organ Gets Damaged by Hepatitis C?

Long-term health issues, such as liver damage, liver failure, cirrhosis, liver cancer, and even death, can be caused by chronic hepatitis C. It accounts for being the most common reason for liver transplantation in the United States.


What Are the Stages of Hepatitis C Infection?

The stages of hepatitis C infection include the following -
- Acute stage.
- Chronic stage.
- Cirrhosis of the liver.
- End-stage hepatitis C.


Does Hepatitis C Cause Mental Problems?

Depression and anxiety are common occurrences in patients with hepatitis C. Patients infected with hepatitis C may experience mental and cognitive decline in up to 50 percent of them. In addition, psychological disorders (mostly depression), anxiety, and poor global functioning were found to be more prevalent in chronically inactive hepatitis patients than in healthy controls.


Does Routine Blood Testing Reveal Hepatitis C?

Blood test for HCV antibodies is the first step in the hepatitis C screening process. Tests for hepatitis C are usually done in laboratories that perform routine blood work. Analyses will be performed on a standard blood sample. The presence of the hepatitis C virus is indicated by the presence of HCV antibodies in test results.


Why Does One Always Test Positive for Hepatitis C?

A reactive or positive antibody test indicates that a person has had hepatitis C at some point in their life. Antibodies will always be present in the blood of an infected person. This is true regardless of whether the virus has been eradicated, cured, or remains in their blood.


What Are the Symptoms of Hepatitis C in Females?

Females affected with hepatitis C have the following symptoms
- Bruising or bleeding easily.
- Itchy skin.
- Fluid retention in the stomach.
- Swelling in the legs.
- Unexplained loss of weight.
- Spider veins.
Dr. Davie Wong
Dr. Davie Wong

HIV/AIDS specialist


liver cirrhosishepatitis c
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