What You Need to Know about Hepatitis C
Hepatitis C: The Basics
What is hepatitis C?
"Hepatitis" means "liver disease." Hepatitis C is a kind of liver disease caused by the Hepatitis C Virus (HCV).
Up to 85% of people who are exposed to HCV develop long-term (chronic) hepatitis C infection. Long-term hepatitis C infection can lead to liver scarring (cirrhosis), liver disease, or liver cancer.
Other kinds of hepatitis can be caused by other viruses, by alcohol, or by medication. A person can have more than one kind of hepatitis at the same time.
What are the symptoms of hepatitis C?
Most people with hepatitis C have no symptoms for many years. Some never have symptoms at all. But some people have symptoms like:
- dark urine
- light-colored stools
- feeling very tired
- yellowish skin and/or eyes
- upset stomach
- stomach pain
The only way to know if you have hepatitis C is to have a blood test.
How do people get hepatitis C?
Hepatitis C is passed from one person to another through infected blood. For example:
- sharing syringes and injection equipment (works)
- needle-stick injuries, usually to health care workers on the job
- from mother to baby during birth
- sex without using a condom
What will hepatitis C do to my health?
Five to 15% of people with hepatitis C will get severe liver damage and scarring (cirrhosis) of the liver or liver cancer. This often happens slowly, over many years. Some people have no problems for 20 or more years after infection. Others become sick much sooner.
Severe liver damage can lead to:
- problems with blood clotting
- swelling of the stomach and ankles
- not being able to think clearly
- liver failure
- needing a liver transplant
It can be scary to find out about the health problems that hepatitis C can cause. Remember that many people with hepatitis C stay healthy for years. Not everyone with hepatitis C will have serious liver problems.
What does my liver do, anyway?
Your liver is one of the most important organs in your body. You can not live without it. Some of its jobs are:
- processing some medicines
- filtering poisons out of your blood
- helping to fight infection
- changing food into substances your body needs
- making substances that help your blood clot
- storing vitamins and energy
Many people with hepatitis C also have HIV.
HIV is the virus that causes AIDS. Like hepatitis C, HIV is spread through contact with infected blood. HIV is also spread during unprotected sex.
If you have ever shared needles or had vaginal, anal, or oral sex without a condom, think about getting an HIV test. If you test positive, there are treatments that can help you stay healthier. To get more information and find out where you can get a free HIV test without giving your name, call: 1-800-541-AIDS /1-800-233-SIDA (Spanish).
If you have HIV, your hepatitis C may get worse faster. Most people can be treated for HIV and hepatitis C at the same time.