Written by Ann Pietrangelo
Medically Reviewed by George Krucik, MD, MBA
Hepatitis C causes inflammation of the liver. Over time, this leads to scarring and severe damage to the liver and its functions. Evenutally, the liver loses its ability to work at all.
The gallbladder stores bile and helps to break down fats from your food. An inflamed gallbladder can cause severe pain.
A build-up of toxins in the brain can lead to mental confusion, moodiness, and slurred speech. Untreated, some patients may enter a comatose state.
A poorly functioning liver fails to remove toxins from the bloodstream, which can lead to a wide range of complications.
An immune system trying to protect the body from hepatitis C may mistakenly attack thyroid cells. Fatigue and general sluggishness are common symptoms of thyroid disorders.
If the liver doesn’t produce enough albumin, fluid can build up in the stomach, causing pain and discomfort.
The intestines absorb vitamins, minerals, and nutrients from the food you eat. That becomes more difficult when the liver can’t produce bile.
A build up of toxins in the central nervous system can cause the breath to have a sweet or musty odor.
Hepatitis C can cause jaundice, which makes the skin and the whites of the eyes turn yellow
Hepatitis C in the LiverGallbladder GriefToxic Build-up in the BrainBad BloodThyroidFluids in the StomachInefficient IntestinesMusty MouthSkin and EyesHepatitis C is a viral disease that primarily causes inflammation of the liver, but the effects can be felt throughout the body.
The Effects of Hepatitis C on the BodyHepatitis C is caused by a virus that is passed through contact with the blood of an infected person. The infection leads to inflammation of the liver.
The liver processes blood and filter toxins so they don’t cause damage to your body. The liver also produces bile, which helps you to digest food and stores glucose and vitamins. Inflammation makes it difficult for the liver to perform these vital functions. In time, the hepatitis C infection can affect the entire body.
Early symptoms, including yellowing skin and fatigue, may be mild and easily dismissed. Chronic infection can cause scarring of the liver (cirrhosis). As the disease progresses, symptoms such as skin problems, blood disorders, and fever may appear.
In the long term, hepatitis C can lead to severe liver damage, liver cancer, and liver failure. Early treatment can help delay or prevent serious damage.
Digestive SystemA healthy liver performs many functions that are crucial to your health. The liver is responsible for producing bile, a substance needed to break down fats. The body stores bile in the gallbladder, then sends it to the beginning section of the small intestine (duodenum). Bile is then combined with stomach acids and digestive fluids from the pancreas, which help the intestines absorb nutrients into the bloodstream.
Hepatitis C can severely hinder the liver’s ability to produce bile. Inflammation of the gallbladder can make it painful to digest fatty foods. Therefore, people with hepatitis C may feel some pain in the upper right portion of the abdomen. This may be due to a build-up of fluid in the stomach (ascites). This occurs when the damaged liver doesn’t produce enough albumin, a substance that regulates the amount of fluid in cells.
Other digestive symptoms include nausea, vomiting, and loss of appetite. Stool may become pale or clay-colored, and urine may darken.
Central Nervous SystemWhen the liver doesn’t filter toxins from the blood, they can damage the central nervous system (hepatic encephalopathy). This can lead to a variety of symptoms, including sweet or musty breath, weakening of small motor skills, and sleep disturbances. Dry eyes and mouth are sometimes associated with hepatitis C.
A build-up of toxins in the brain can cause confusion, forgetfulness, poor concentration, and personality changes. Advanced symptoms include abnormal shaking, agitation, disorientation, and slurred speech. Severe cases may cause coma.
Circulatory SystemThe liver filters toxins out of your bloodstream. It also produces proteins needed for healthy blood and helps to regulate blood clotting. A poorly functioning liver can create blood flow problems and increase pressure in the vein that leads to the liver (portal vein). This can cause portal hypertension, which may force blood to find an alternate vein. The vein can burst if it’s too small, causing serious internal bleeding (variceal bleeding).
A poorly functioning liver is unable to properly extract iron from the blood and store it for later use. This can result in anemia.
A healthy liver also helps convert sugars into glucose and store it for energy. Too much sugar in the bloodstream can lead to insulin resistance or type 2 diabetes.
Blood tests can reveal the presence of hepatitis C antibodies in the bloodstream. If you have antibodies, it means you’ve been exposed to the virus. In most cases, a second blood test is used to confirm a hepatitis C diagnosis.
Skin, Hair, and Nails (Integumentary System)A protein molecule called hemoglobin is found in red blood cells. Hemoglobin transports oxygen and iron to cells throughout the body. Iron is crucial in sustaining cells that make up healthy skin, fingernails, toenails, and hair.
Bilirubin is another important substance in hemoglobin. When the liver can’t do its job, bilirubin can build up and cause your skin and the whites of your eyes to turn yellow (jaundice).
Endocrine and Immune SystemsThe endocrine system regulates hormones. As part of the endocrine system, the thyroid gland delivers hormones into the bloodstream. Sometimes hepatitis C can cause the immune system to mistakenly attack or damage thyroid tissue. This can cause an overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism), which can lead to sleep disorders and weight loss. Underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism) can make you feel sluggish. According to The Hepatitis Trust, this is more common in women than in men.
Overall HealthMany people infected with hepatitis C have no symptoms, especially in the earliest stages. Some report general fatigue, fever, or non-specific aches and pains.
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