Written by Greg Jeffreys, Hepatitis C Writer & Activist.
Hepatitis C Symptoms
I learned that I had Hep C in 2014… I’d probably had it for about 40 years without knowing. When I first became aware of my hepatitis C symptoms, I did not know that I had Hepatitis C, I just suddenly started feeling very, very unwell.
Actually, I did not know anything about Hepatitis C at all but I noticed that my urine had become very dark and it smelled really bad, like rotten meat. Added to that I was very fatigued a lot of the time and was starting to get nose bleeds and to bruise easily.
It was my wife who got concerned enough to Google the symptoms I was experiencing and she came to the conclusion that I either had Hep C or liver cancer and that I really ought to see my doctor, pronto!
Well, actually she ordered me to see the doctor.
After hearing my symptoms my doctor immediately ordered a Hepatitis C antibody test and a liver function test. The Hep C antibody test came back positive and the Liver Function Test showed that my liver was extremely damaged. So my doctor then ordered a Hepatitis C viral load test and it was confirmed that I had Hep C.
That was how I found out I had Hepatitis C and I have to tell you that I was in shock.
Now when the doctor confirmed that I had Hep C I did not know anything about Hepatitis C except that I had it. I also learned that not many people knew very much about Hepatitis C, including my doctor. My doctor could not tell me how I might have contracted Hep C. His opinion was that I must have caught it recently, within the last few years. But I knew that it was not possible as I had not engaged in any behaviours or activities that could have exposed me to the virus. (As it turned out I almost certainly contracted Hep C in 1974 and it had been in my system for 40 years)
So began a steep learning curve about Hep C, and I guess if you are reading this you are on the same steep learning curve and this is why I am writing this. In 2014 when I learned I had Hep C I was doing my PhD at the University of Tasmania. Because of the Hep C I had to quit my studies.
It is now 2018 and I have been cured for more than three years but in those three years I have been living, breathing and studying Hepatitis C. The energy I had been putting into studying for my PhD I put into studying Hepatitis C and I am writing this so that there is a clear and easy to understand list of Hepatitis C symptoms.
But first here is a little background on the disease.
Hepatitis C is a virus that “breeds” in your liver. Put simply the virus burrows into your liver cells and uses the genetic material of your liver cell to replicate itself. At a certain point in that cycle the Hep C virus causes your liver cell to “explode” releasing all the new virus strands that have been created in your liver. Those viral RNA strands travel around in your blood until they get a chance to burrow into other liver cells and repeat the process.
This breeding process can happen very fast and one or two Hep C viruses can become millions within days of entering your body.
If you have a viral load of one million then you probably have hundreds of millions of Hep C virus strands doing this to your liver 24 hours every day.
It is also important to understand that there is no such thing as inactive or dormant Hepatitis C. Either you have Hep C or you don’t. If you have Hep C then it is actively damaging your liver.
Hep C Symptoms
The Digestive System
The most obvious effect of Hep C in the digestive system is through the damage Hep C does to the liver through creating scar tissue. Among other things, Hep C inhibits the liver’s ability to produce bile. Poor bile production can make it hard to digest fatty foods. A damaged liver will produce pain throughout the abdomen from a build-up of fluid when the liver does not produce enough albumin, a substance that regulates the amount of fluid in cells.
Other Hepatitis C symptoms related to the digestive system include, nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, weight loss and pale or clay-colored stools,
Hepatitis C and the Nervous System
One of the most important functions of the liver is to filter toxins from your blood. When the liver is damaged by Hepatitis C then it doesn’t filter toxins from the blood effectively; these toxins build up in your blood and damage your nervous system and also effect your brain. This nerve damage can lead to a number of problems including: peripheral neuropathy, impairment of motor skills and sleep disruption. A buildup of toxins in the brain can also cause what is commonly known as “Brain Fog”. Brain fog is a common symptom of Hepatitis C and typically includes confusion, forgetfulness and poor concentration.
In my own case I developed peripheral neuropathy in 1999 when I noticed that my toes and fingers were going numb. I went to the best nerve specialists in my state and none could tell me the cause of my neuropathy. Not until I consulted a Hepatitis C specialist in 2015 did I learn that peripheral neuropathy was a common symptom of Hepatitis C.
Hep C and the Circulatory system
As well as filtering out toxins your liver also produces proteins needed for healthy blood and regulating blood clotting. When I learned I had Hep C I suffered from regular nose bleeds, bleeding gums and slow healing wounds. All of those symptoms left me once the Hep C was cured.
A damaged liver will often have blood flow problems that increase pressure on the large vein that leads to the liver, the portal vein. This can lead to portal hypertension, which may force blood into other veins. If these veins burst this causes what is known as variceal bleeding and can lead to severe internal bleeding. Also a poorly functioning liver is not able to absorb, transport or store iron which will cause anemia.
Cryoglobulinemia is a very long word for a condition that basically means “your blood gets thicker”. Put simply because your liver is not functioning properly your blood proteins clump together and the blood gets thicker… particularly if it cools a little, so its a real problem in the skin and the fingers and toes. Cryoglobulinemia will cause problems with circulation as well as effecting your kidneys, liver, skin, joints, and nerves.
Cryoglobulinemia is one of the most common symptoms of Hepatitis C and yet it is rarely discussed.
Hep C Symptoms caused by Cryoglobulinemia include: Joint pain, aching muscles, shortness of breath, fatigue, spots or patches on the skin and skin ulcers or sores and also itchy skin.
What Other Symptoms Can Come from Hep C?
- Breast enlargement in men
- A rash on the palms
- Difficulty with the clotting of blood
- Spider-like blood vessels on the skin
- Nose bleeds
- Easy bruising
- Click here for more information about how Hepatitis C effects our health
The Good News About Hepatitis C
If there is any good news it is that Hepatitis C is now quite easy to cure and that once the Hep C virus is removed from your body the liver will regenerate and these symptoms should disappear.
The important thing is to get rid of the virus as soon as possible before it can do permanent and lasting damage to your liver and your general health.
If you need help getting Hepatitis C treatment please feel free to contact me and I will do the best I can to help you.
- Carolyn A. Lang, Sue Conrad, Lyndall Garrett, Diana Battistutta, W. Graham E. Cooksley, Michael P. Dunne, Graeme A. Macdonald 2006,
‘Symptom Prevalence and Clustering of Symptoms in People Living with Chronic Hepatitis C Infection’, Journal of Pain and Symptom Management, vol. 31, no. 4, pp.335-344.