Hepatitis C has been called “the silent killer” because the virus often hides in the body for years, escaping detection as it attacks the liver. Since most people don’t have warning signs of hepatitis C (or don’t know how or when they were infected), they don’t seek treatment until many years later. By the time hepatitis C symptoms appear or a diagnosis is made, the damage often is well underway.
If symptoms do appear, they may be mild or severe. Among the most common complaints are:
- Muscle or joint pain
- Poor appetite
- Pain in the upper right part of the abdomen
- Dark yellow urine
- Yellowish skin or eyes (jaundice)
- Itchy skin
- Pale stools
- Easy bleeding
- Easy bruising
As many as one in four people with chronic hepatitis C go on to develop cirrhosis or severe scarring of the liver.
These people may have additional symptoms, including swelling of the legs and abdomen, spider-like blood vessels and a buildup of toxins in the bloodstream that can lead to brain damage.
Chronic hepatitis C is also one of the leading causes of liver cancer, which shares many of the same symptoms as those experienced by people who have had hepatitis C for many years, including fatigue, fever, bloating, right-side pain and jaundice.