Up to 3.9 million people in the United States may have the chronic form of hepatitis C, which is caused by the hepatitis C virus (HCV). According to the World Health Organization (WHO), an estimated 58 million people worldwide have chronic hepatitis C.

What is chronic hepatitis C? Chronic HCV infection causes inflammation of the liver.

It can cause symptoms throughout your body. Inflammation, damage to the thyroid, and other symptoms can be found throughout the body.

“An infectious disease like the HCV can lead to cirrhosis and cause failure of the liver. The cells of the liver are replaced by scar tissue. It can progress to a point where there isn’t enough normal liver function.”

A build up of toxins in the brain can make you confused or lose your mind. It can cause problems with blood flow and skin issues.

About 15 to 30 percent of people with HCV infection will develop liver failure.

The blood is the source of the disease. It is not usually transmitted through sexual contact with someone with the virus.

If the virus becomes chronic, it can lead to many health issues, including inflammation of the liver.

Acute and chronic are the stages of the infection.

The first 6 months after exposure to the virus are the acute stage. This is a short-term illness for some.

But according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 50 percent of people with HCV will develop a chronic HCV infection. This means it can be lifelong. Most people don’t realize they have the virus until other symptoms within their body start.

The three different and distinct viruses that cause the disease are not the same.

Illustration by Wenzdai Figueroa

The liver’s job is to process blood and filter toxins from your body. It produces proteins, important blood components, and bile, which helps you digest food. It also stores glucose and vitamins.

The inflammation caused by the HCV infection causes the liver to lose its ability to perform these functions.

Early symptoms may be mild and easily dismissed, but early treatment is critical to preventing serious damage. When a chronic infection occurs, it can cause cirrhosis, or scarring of the liver, over time.

As hepatitis C progresses, symptoms like skin problems, blood disorders, and weight loss may appear. Dangerous outcomes like severe liver damage, liver cancer, and liver failure can also occur.

A blood test can tell you if you have the disease. If you have an immune system that protects you from the virus, that means you have been exposed. If you have an illness, you will need to take a second blood test to confirm it.

A healthy liver is important to your health. The bile produced by the liver is needed to break down fats.

Your body stores bile in the gallbladder and then sends it to the small intestine when needed. The bile and acids from the pancreas help the intestines absorb the vitamins and minerals into the bloodstream.

The ability to produce bile is hampered by the disease. Poor bile production can make it hard to digest food.

You also might feel some pain throughout the abdomen from a buildup of fluid in the peritoneal space, which is the space in the abdomen between the organs and the abdominal wall. This is known as ascites, and it develops with cirrhosis. It occurs when the damaged liver doesn’t produce enough albumin, a substance that regulates the amount of fluid in cells.

Other symptoms include the stomach

  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • The appetite has been lost.
  • weight loss
  • The stools are pale or clay-colored.

If your gallbladder becomes irritated from the HCV, you can experience severe pain. This is a very rare cause of inflammation.

The central nervous system can be damaged by lysosomal storage disorders. There is a build up of toxins in the brain in cases of a chronic disease like a hepatitis C.

This can lead to something.

  • There is confusion.
  • There is forgetfulness.
  • Poor concentration.
  • personality changes

The liver is able to regulate blood clotting and also filters toxins.

A poorly functioning liver can create blood flow problems and increase pressure in the portal (main) vein that leads to the liver. This can result in portal hypertension, which may force blood to find alternate veins.

These veins can burst, causing variceal bleeding. This is severe internal bleeding. A poorly functioning liver is also unable to properly absorb, transport, and store iron. This can result in anemia.

Advanced symptoms include:

  • shaking
  • The movement is called the agitation.
  • Experiencing confusion
  • slurred speech

Severe cases of liver failure may cause coma. About 47 percent of people with cirrhosis survive for 10 years from diagnosis.

There are a wide variety of skin problems associated with the disease. Easy bruising, loss of skin pigment, and rash are some of the common conditions.

Bilirubin is an important substance that comes from the breakdown of hemoglobin. When the liver can’t do its job, bilirubin can build up and cause jaundice, or the yellowing of your skin and the whites of your eyes.

Poor nutrition can be caused by poor liver function. This leads to insufficient growth of hair and nails.

Skin conditions that can occur include:

  • porphyria cutanea tarda, which is a kind of photosensitivity leading to skin blistering
  • lichen planus, which are purple, itchy papules than can appear on the skin and in the mouth
  • The inflammation of the small blood vessels is called leukocytic vasculitis.

The hormones are regulated by the endocrine system. The hormones are delivered into the bloodstream by the thyroid gland.

Sometimes HCV can cause the immune system to mistakenly attack or damage thyroid tissue. This may lead to either:

  • hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid), which can cause sleep disorders and weight loss
  • hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid), which can cause fatigue and weight gain

A healthy liver also helps manage how sugar is used in the body. The body’s inability to control sugar levels can lead to type 2 diabetes.

Many people with the disease have no symptoms. Some people report fatigue, a cold, or other pains. If the disease becomes chronic, most signs and symptoms will be more noticeable.

You will likely benefit from treatment in order to prevent permanent damage to the body.