After you are infected with , you enter an early, shorter-term (acute) stage of the disease. Some people with acute hepatitis C fight off the virus permanently and never have any liver problems. But up to 85% of people who are infected with the virus will go on to develop long-term (chronic) hepatitis C.7
Long-term infection with hepatitis C often causes tiny scars to gradually form in your liver. If you develop a lot of these scars, it becomes hard for your liver to work well. About 25% of people who develop chronic hepatitis C eventually develop more serious liver problems such as or liver cancer, usually over a period of 20 or more years.9
Most people have no symptoms immediately after they have been infected with hepatitis C. If you do not feel any different than normal, you probably will not know that you have hepatitis C. Even if you go to your doctor because of symptoms, your symptoms may be blamed on . Since any symptoms are likely to go away in a few weeks, you may not know you have hepatitis C for a long time.
If you have an obvious symptom of hepatitis C such as , or if you know you have been exposed to the blood of someone with hepatitis C, then you should go to your doctor to be tested for a hepatitis C virus infection.
You will be diagnosed with chronic (long-term) hepatitis C if your liver has shown signs of infection for at least 6 months.
If you have a chronic infection, you will probably have some liver even if you do not have symptoms. A chronic infection can last for many years and may never go away. Some people who have chronic hepatitis C never have serious liver problems. Other people develop severe liver problems, such as cirrhosis, liver cancer, or liver failure, usually over a period of 20 years or longer. If the infection becomes so severe that your liver can no longer function (end-stage liver failure), having a may be the only way to extend your life.
Hepatitis C mostly causes damage to the liver. Sometimes it also plays a role in other health problems.