Living with Hepatitis C

Being diagnosed with hepatitis C (HCV) is life-changing. Whether you have been living with HCV for years or are newly diagnosed, there are many challenges to tackle. With support from your healthcare team and community, life with HCV can be positive.

Processing a new diagnosis

Learning you have HCV can be overwhelming. However, there are several things to be hopeful about. First, the virus typically progresses slowly and few people have symptoms. Next, treatment has greatly improved in recent years. Many direct-acting antiviral drugs have cure rates close to 100 percent.1,2

Finding community support can be invaluable in helping you learn to help yourself. Forums like the ones here on HepatitisC.net are one example.

Finding the right healthcare team

Finding a healthcare team you trust is vital. Your doctor can help walk you through different treatment options. They can also connect you with support groups and address any symptoms. Keeping regular doctor’s appointments and undergoing all recommended lab tests allows your health to be tracked.

There are also other health conditions that often appear with HCV. These are called "extrahepatic manifestations."

Managing HCV symptoms

Many with HCV will have few to no symptoms. However, for those who do have symptoms, the most common include:1,3

  • Fatigue
  • Flu-like symptoms (headache, fever, muscle or joint aches)
  • Abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea
  • Dry eyes, mouth, or skin
  • Skin rashes or itching
  • Mental health conditions

Many of these symptoms can be a burden, but there are options to help manage them. Keep the lines of communication open with your doctor so you can address issues as they come up.

Long-term liver issues

Without treatment, HCV can impact the liver. For some, a diagnosis of HCV comes only after symptoms of liver damage show up. Although it can take decades, HCV can lead to scarring of the liver. Reversible damage is called fibrosis. When fibrosis progresses enough, it becomes irreversible. This is called cirrhosis.

Cirrhosis comes with its own issues, like liver failure, brain fog, and leg or belly swelling (ascites). There is also an increased risk of severe bleeding from dilated blood vessels (varices). There are many symptoms that can be related to liver damage.1

Liver damage can be so severe a liver transplant is needed. People with HCV also have a higher risk of developing liver cancer.1

Regularly working with your doctor to make sure you are receiving the treatment and screening tests you need helps reduce your risk of developing long-term liver issues. It may also be necessary to avoid certain drugs or reduce alcohol intake to protect your liver from more damage.4

Navigating mental health issues

Living with any chronic condition can cause stress, anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues. Reaching out for support is the first step. You are not alone if you experience these emotions. Telling a loved one, support group, or your doctor can help get you connected with support. Talk therapy, relaxation techniques, and drugs all exist to help promote strong mental health.5

Preventing more HCV

It is possible to transmit HCV to others. Taking steps to prevent this can help protect those around you. The ways you can reduce the chances of HCV transmission include:1,6

  • Get complete treatment for HCV
  • Do not donate blood, organs, body tissues, or sperm
  • Cover open cuts or sores with bandages
  • Avoid sharing needles or other sharp tools with others
  • Use barrier protection like condoms during sex
  • Avoid sharing personal items that may come in contact with blood, like razors, glucose meters, or toothbrushes
  • Thoroughly clean up any blood on surfaces or tools with cleaners that contain bleach

Your healthcare team can help determine other strategies for reducing transmission risk based on your specific situation.

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Casey Hribar | Last reviewed: August 2021