for Veterans and the Public
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: How does hepatitis C progress?
The period between the entrance of the virus into the body and the appearance of symptoms usually lasts two to three months. Noticeable signs may never occur.
At first, symptoms can include:
- Loss of appetite
- Yellow skin and eyes
During the second stage of infection, the virus may disappear on its own. This occurs in about 15-40% of diagnosed cases. Chronic hepatitis C is when the infection continues for more than six months.
Liver damage happens at a slow rate. Scarring, known as fibrosis, happens when there are more liver cells dying than being produced. Large amounts of scarring will not occur for 15 to 20 years for most people. Sometimes a chronic infection never goes on to fibrosis. Cirrhosis, or the replacement of liver cells with permanent scar tissue, occurs in about one in five people with HCV. Cirrhosis can lead to problems such as bleeding from veins in the esophagus, fluid buildup in the belly, and damaged brain function.
Approximately 15% of people with cirrhosis will develop liver cancer (hepatocellular carcinoma, or HCC) during their lifetime. Drinking excessively can double the chance of liver cancer in people infected with HCV. Having hepatitis B at the same time will also increase your risk. Men and people older than 55 are more likely to develop liver cancer than women and young adults.