Key Points about Hepatitis C

  • Hepatitis C is a liver infection caused by a virus.
  • Your specialist can diagnose hepatitis C using a blood test.
  • Treatment for hepatitis C typically involves a course of antiviral medications, staying current on hepatitis A and B vaccinations, and, in advanced cases, liver transplant.


Hepatitis C is a liver infection that is caused by a virus known as HCV. HCV spreads by coming into contact with blood infected with the virus. The danger with this condition is that many people with hepatitis C don’t experience symptoms for several years or even decades after being infected. Therefore, they can unknowingly spread HCV.

Hepatitis C causes

Hepatitis C infection is caused by HCV, which spreads through blood.

Hepatitis C risk factors

The following factors can increase your risk of contracting HCV include:

  • Being a health care worker
  • Being born between 1945 and 1965
  • Being born to a mother with hepatitis C infection
  • Having a blood transfusion or organ transplant before 1992
  • Having ever been in prison
  • Having HIV
  • Having received clotting factor concentrates before 1987
  • Receiving a piercing or tattoo in an unsterile environment or with unsterile equipment
  • Receiving hemodialysis treatments for a long period of time
  • Using illicit drugs that are injected or inhaled (snorted through the nose)

Hepatitis C symptoms

In many cases, people infected with HCV won’t show any symptoms or know they have it for several years. When signs and symptoms do occur, they may include:

  • Ascites (excess fluid in the abdomen)
  • Confusion
  • Dark-colored urine
  • Decreased appetite
  • Drowsiness
  • Easy bleeding
  • Easy bruising
  • Fatigue
  • Jaundice (yellowing of skin and eyes)
  • Slurred speech
  • Spider angiomas (spider-like blood vessels on the skin)
  • Swelling in the legs
  • Unexplainable weight loss

Hepatitis C diagnosis

Your specialist will order blood tests for hepatitis C. Blood tests can determine if you have HBC, which strain of the virus you have and if your liver has been damaged. You may also need to undergo additional testing for liver damage, including:

  • Liver biopsy - during this test, your provider inserts a thin needle into your abdomen near your liver and then removes a small tissue sample (biopsy) for close analysis in the lab. Lab technicians can determine if your liver is damaged.
  • Magnetic resonance elastography (MRE) - this imaging test uses sound waves to create detailed images of your liver and surrounding structures. An MRE can help your provider determine the extent of liver scarring (fibrosis), which can occur due to hepatitis C infection.
  • Transient elastography - this imaging test uses ultrasound (sound) waves to see inside your body and determine the extent of liver damage and scarring.

Hepatitis C treatment

Your specialist may recommend one or more of the following treatment options for hepatitis C:

  • Antiviral medications - your specialist may prescribe a course of antiviral medicines to remove the virus from your body. After you have taken medication for about three months, you will be retested for HBC to determine if it has left your system.
  • Liver transplant - if your liver is severely damaged by hepatitis C infection, you may need to undergo a liver transplant. During this procedure, your specialist removes your damaged liver and puts a donor liver in its place. The donor liver usually comes from a deceased organ donor, but, in some cases, a family member may be able to donate a partial liver.
  • Vaccination - there is no vaccine available for hepatitis C, however, your specialist may recommend you stay up-to-date on hepatitis A and B vaccinations. Hepatitis A and hepatitis B are other types of liver infections that can cause severe liver damage and further complicate hepatitis C.

When should I seek care?

If you experience any of these symptoms, start by voicing your concerns and symptoms to your primary care provider. From there, your doctor may suggest seeing a liver specialist for more specialized treatment.

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