Many people with hepatitis C don't have any symptoms and are unaware they have the infection. They may develop symptoms later on as their liver becomes increasingly damaged.
Only around one in every three or four people will have any symptoms during the first six months of a hepatitis C infection. This stage is known as acute hepatitis C.
If symptoms do develop, they usually occur a few weeks after infection. Symptoms may include:
- a high temperature of 38C (100.4F) or above
- loss of appetite
- tummy (abdominal) pains
- feeling and being sick
Around one in every five people who experiences symptoms will also have yellowing of the eyes and skin. This is known as jaundice.
In around one in every four people infected with hepatitis C, the immune system will kill the virus within a few months and the person will have no further symptoms, unless they become infected again.
In the remaining cases, the virus persists inside the body for many years. This is known as chronic hepatitis.
The symptoms of long-term (chronic) hepatitis C can vary widely. In some people, symptoms may be barely noticeable. In others, they can have a significant impact on their quality of life.
The symptoms can also go away for long periods of time and then return.
Some of the most common problems experienced by people with chronic hepatitis C include:
- feeling tired all the time
- joint and muscle aches and pain
- feeling sick
- problems with short-term memory, concentration and completing complex mental tasks such as mental arithmetic – many people describe this as "brain fog"
- mood swings
- depression or anxiety
- indigestion or bloating
- itchy skin
- abdominal pain
If left untreated, the infection can eventually cause the liver to become scarred (cirrhosis). Signs of cirrhosis can include jaundice, vomiting blood, dark stools, and a build-up of fluid in the legs or abdomen.
Read more about the complications of hepatitis C.
When to seek medical advice
See your GP if you persistently have any of the later symptoms above, or if they keep returning. They may recommend having a blood test that can check for hepatitis C.
Read more about diagnosing hepatitis C.
None of the symptoms above mean you definitely have hepatitis C, but it's important to get them checked out.
You should also speak to your GP about getting tested if there's a risk you're infected, even if you don't have any symptoms. This particularly includes people who inject drugs or have done so in the past.
Read about the causes of hepatitis C for more information about who's at risk of having the infection.