Diagnosing Hepatitis C
While the hepatitis C virus (HCV) can be detected in blood between one to three weeks after the initial exposure, 80 percent of people with hepatitis C have no symptoms and go undiagnosed. Within approximately 50 days, most will begin to develop liver cell injury, although they will be asymptomatic (symptom-free).
About 15 percent of those exposed to HCV will clear their system of the virus within six months.
The remaining 85 percent will develop some level of chronic hepatitis C. Over time, this can cause serious liver damage, although the rate of progression can vary significantly from individual to individual.
Symptoms of hepatitis C
Symptoms may include:
- Loss of appetite
- Jaundice (yellowing of the eyes and skin)
- Abdominal pain
- Aches and pains
- Joint pain
- Darker colored urine
- Loose, light-colored stool
And, cigarette smokers may suddenly dislike the taste of cigarettes.
In addition to some of the above symptoms, chronic hepatitis C infection may also cause:
- Severe fatigue
- Loss of appetite
Testing for hepatitis C
To diagnose hepatitis C, your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history, and perform a physical exam.
Your doctor will also want to discuss your risk factors for hepatitis C.
Tests may include:
- Blood tests — to look for hepatitis C antibodies (proteins that your body has made to fight the hepatitis C virus) or genetic material from the virus
- Liver biopsy — removal of a sample of liver tissue to be examined
Complications of hepatitis C
Serious complications of hepatitis C infection include:
- The possibility that the infection will become chronic, leading to progressive liver failure
- Increased risk of liver cancer
Within about 20 years of exposure, approximately 20 percent of individuals develop cirrhosis, which leads to end-stage liver disease. Alcohol use can dramatically speed the onset of cirrhosis.