Complications of Chronic Hepatitis C
Unless successfully treated with medication, chronic Hepatitis C infection can cause other serious health problems, such as cirrhosis, liver cancer and liver failure. However, with recent advances in Hepatitis C treatment we now have higher cure rates, shorter treatment times, and all-oral treatment regimens for most people. If you’re at risk for Hepatitis C, speak to your healthcare provider today about getting tested.
Fibrosis is the first stage of liver scarring. When scar tissue builds up and takes over most of the liver, this is a more serious problem called cirrhosis. Many people assume cirrhosis means liver disease from alcohol, but anything that damages your liver over many years can cause it to form scar tissue. As hard scar tissue replaces soft, healthy normal tissue the liver can no longer work well or work at all. It can take a long time – about 20 to 30 years – for liver damage to lead to cirrhosis.
In the early years, people with cirrhosis often have no symptoms. But over time, they can experience the following:
- weight loss
- abdominal pain
- severe itching
- jaundice (yellow discoloration of the skin and eyes)
Eventually, people can have complications such as fluid in the abdomen and difficulty thinking clearly. We used to hear that cirrhosis could not be reversed, but research in a number of liver diseases – including Hepatitis C – found that scarring of the liver can be improved with treatment of the disease that initially led to the damage.
Like all organs in your body, your liver can get cancer. When this happens, some of the cells in your liver reproduce faster than they should, leading to tumors and other problems. People with Hepatitis C are at risk for liver cancer once they get to the level of cirrhosis. As such, it’s important for you to have some type of test to determine if you have cirrhosis. Remember that people with cirrhosis can feel fine and have no symptoms in the early stage.
When someone has advanced liver disease and their liver is severely damaged it may no longer be able to function. The person may have yellow skin and eyes (jaundice), have fluid in their legs or abdomen (ascites), have bleeding from their stomach or esophagus (varices), or be confused (hepatic encephalopathy). At this point, a liver transplant may be considered.
Without treatment, chronic Hepatitis C can be very serious. But recent advances have made treatment shorter in duration, less difficult to tolerate and more effective. It’s an exciting and hopeful time for people with Hepatitis C as treatment is rapidly changing for the better.