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3 Subtle Signs of Hepatitis C

Hepatitis C is a serious viral infection that inflames your liver — in severe cases, it causes significant liver damage. The Hepatitis C virus (HCV) is the culprit behind this insidious disease, and it typically enters your body through contaminated blood.

While anyone can get hepatitis C, you have a higher risk if you share needles or other drug-injecting equipment, are a health care professional exposed to infected blood, get tattoos or body piercings in unsanitary conditions, or share personal items like razors and toothbrushes that might come into contact with infected blood.

Hepatitis C requires professional medical care from an experienced physician who understands the disease and specializes in liver problems. In Chicago, Illinois, that’s Darrien Gaston, MD, FACP, FACG, at Metro Gastroenterology Consultants. Here, Dr. Gaston explains how hepatitis C can creep up on you with subtle symptoms you could easily miss. 

The A, B, Cs of hepatitis

There are three types of hepatitis, and each has unique causes, symptoms, and treatments. To fully grasp the implications of hepatitis C, let’s start by distinguishing it from hepatitis A and B.

Hepatitis A typically transfers from one person to another through contaminated food, water, or feces. It often resolves on its own and rarely leads to chronic disease or liver damage. Vaccination is available for prevention.

Hepatitis B also transmits through bodily fluids, which usually causes an acute infection but can lead to a chronic case. Chronic hepatitis B can cause serious liver damage, cirrhosis, or liver cancer. Vaccination is available for prevention.

Hepatitis C primarily spreads through direct contact with infected blood and can result in both acute and chronic hepatitis. Like type B, chronic hepatitis C can lead to severe liver damage — it’s the most common reason for liver transplants in the United States. As of now, there is no vaccine against hepatitis C.

Acute vs. chronic hepatitis C

Acute Hepatitis C refers to the first few months after the virus enters your body. In many cases, it has no symptoms to warn you of its presence — nearly 4 million Americans have it and don’t know it. When symptoms do appear, they’re often mild and nonspecific, such as fatigue and nausea.

Contrarily, Chronic hepatitis C is a long-term infection that occurs when your body can’t clear the virus during the acute phase. This condition can persist for many years, leading to serious health problems like liver cirrhosis and liver cancer.

Spotting the subtle signs of hepatitis C

Hepatitis C symptoms can be so subtle that you can live with the disease for years without knowing it. Here are a few signs to watch out for:

Of course, these symptoms could point to flu or any of several similar viral infections, so you may not know to seek help. If you experience these symptoms and have one or more of the risk factors we mentioned, call Dr. Gaston.

The not-so-subtle signs of hepatitis C

Untreated hepatitis C can lead to liver failure and cirrhosis. You’ll know this is happening if you notice:

If you experience these symptoms, especially if you belong to one of the high-risk groups, call Metro Gastroenterology Consultants immediately. Early detection and treatment of hepatitis C can prevent severe liver damage.

How we treat hepatitis C

Dr. Gaston offers several FDA-approved medications to help you overcome hepatitis C, but if the disease has damaged your liver, you may need more extensive treatment or a liver transplant. 

If you’re at high risk for hepatitis C, talk to Dr. Gaston about getting screened —it's a simple blood test that gives us critical information about your liver function. 

Don’t ignore the subtle signs of hepatitis C — call Metro Gastroenterology Consultants and keep your liver safe.

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