Hepatitis C generally refers to infection of the liver. The disease has an incubation stage of up to six months, and patients often have no clear symptoms over this period of time. In some cases the symptoms of hepatitis C occur after a few months from the moment of infection, while in other cases the symptoms of hepatitis C occur after more than a year, when the disease becomes chronic.
Due to the unspecific character of most symptoms produced by hepatitis C, the process of establishing the accurate diagnosis is very complicated and time consuming for doctors. It is virtually impossible for doctors to diagnose hepatitis C relying solely on patients’ reports of symptoms and clinical examinations. In order to reveal conclusive evidence of HCV (hepatitis C virus) infection, doctors need to perform a series of laboratory tests. Careful blood analyses are considered to be the most reliable method of tracing clear signs of hepatitis C in patients with suspected hepatitis. Liver biopsy is another useful medical procedure that can indicate the presence of infection with HCV and that can also provide doctors with additional information regarding the progression of the disease.
In early stages of infection with HCV, most persons experience no symptoms at all. Other persons may experience very diffuse, hardly perceivable generalized symptoms such as fatigue and nausea. At first, the symptoms produced by hepatitis C are generally mild and resemble those produced by cold or flu: muscular weakness and tenderness; joint stiffness and pain; loss of appetite. Mild or moderate fever can also occur in patients with hepatitis C in the early phases of the disease. A more relevant symptom consists in recurrent pain and pronounced discomfort in the liver area, often suggesting infection and inflammation of the organ.
In the later stages of infection with HCV, the symptoms produced by the disease gradually increase in intensity and duration, pointing to potential complications. In advanced phases of hepatitis C, the most common symptoms are: yellowish appearance of the skin and mucosal membranes (mouth and nasal mucosal lining), yellowish appearance of the eyes (often indicating the development of jaundice or icterus), light-colored feces and dark-colored urine. Patients diagnosed with complicated forms of hepatitis C can suffer from enlargement and inflammation of the liver and spleen, severe weight loss, severe body weakness, nausea, abdominal pain and vomiting. Patients with complicated hepatitis C often develop intolerance to alcoholic beverages. Pronounced intolerance to alcohol as well as to fatty food products can be an indicator of cirrhosis (liver cancer).