Managing the Symptoms of Hepatitis C

Some people with hepatitis C (HCV) experience few or no symptoms. In many cases, symptoms do not show up until years after a person was exposed. This is because damage to the liver occurs over time. It does not always show until severe.

However, for those who do have symptoms, there are some common trends. HCV symptoms most often reported include:1,2

  • 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

Fatigue

Fatigue is one of the most commonly reported symptoms of HCV. Some describe it as a feeling of weariness or lack of energy no matter how much one sleeps. Someone who has fatigue often has trouble completing daily tasks. There are some common tips to combat it. These include:3,4

  • Aim for 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night
  • Practice good sleep habits, such as avoiding caffeine late in the day, reducing screen time before bedtime, and sleeping in a cool, dark room
  • Eat a balanced diet
  • Drink plenty of water throughout the day
  • Exercise regularly
  • Practicing stress-reducing techniques like yoga, meditation, or massage
  • Ask for help completing tasks
  • Undergo testing for other medical causes of fatigue, like depression, thyroid issues, diabetes, sleep disorders, or anemia (low red blood cell count)

Flu-like symptoms

Flu-like symptoms include headache, body aches, and fever. These may be directly related to HCV. They may also be side effects of different drugs used to treat HCV. Over-the-counter fever and pain relievers may help manage these symptoms. Drugs like acetaminophen (Tylenol) and ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil) are often first options.

However, before taking any new drugs, talk with your doctor. Some pain relievers may interfere with other health conditions and drugs. Heating pads, stretching, and warm baths may also help relieve aches.3,4

Abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea

Digestive issues and abdominal pain may come along with HCV. Talking with your doctor when these symptoms arise can be helpful. They can determine if these are related to your HCV or another health issue. They may be able to recommend anti-nausea or anti-diarrhea drugs, depending on your symptoms.3,4

In some cases, it may be necessary to change your diet. This includes the foods you eat as well as the amount eaten. For example, some people may feel better eating smaller meals more often rather than a few large meals each day.3,4

A dietitian is a professional who specializes in creating a personalized diet plan. Your doctor may be able to recommend a dietitian to help address your needs.

Dryness of the skin, eyes, or mouth

Dryness of the skin, eyes, or mouth can accompany HCV. It is also common to have itching or rashes on the skin. Talk to your doctor as soon as you notice these symptoms. They can help rule out other health conditions and recommend treatments.

For dryness related to HCV, some tips include:5

  • Use unscented moisturizers
  • Avoid harsh skin cleaning products
  • Drink plenty of water
  • Avoid excessive sunlight
  • Wear sunscreen when outside (SPF 30 or higher)
  • Wear sun protective clothing
  • Use eye drops
  • Suck on sugar-free lozenges
  • Use medicines or mouthwashes specifically for dry mouth
  • Use saline nose spray

Mental health conditions

Living with a chronic illness like HCV can be challenging. It is not uncommon for people with HCV to also struggle with mental health conditions. Stress, anxiety, depression, and other emotional struggles can arise at any time. Although these are common, they can also be overwhelming.6

Stress reduction techniques, like meditation, yoga, and exercise, and journaling can all be helpful.6

In some cases, the support of a professional may be needed. Whether it is a counselor for talk therapy or a doctor for medical treatment, reaching out in whatever way you feel comfortable is key. Support groups (both in-person and online) can be helpful for building community and finding support.7

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Written by: Casey Hribar | Last reviewed: August 2021