Content Supplied by NHS Choices

Hepatitis C

If it is not treated, chronic hepatitis C can sometimes cause scarring of the liver (cirrhosis). This can develop up to 20 years after you first become infected.

If it is not treated, chronic hepatitis C can sometimes cause scarring of the liver (cirrhosis). This can develop up to 20 years after you first become infected.

A number of factors can increase your risk of getting cirrhosis, such as:

Depending on these factors, the risk of cirrhosis can range from 10% to 40%.

Symptoms of cirrhosis include:

  • tiredness and weakness
  • loss of appetite
  • weight loss
  • feeling sick
  • very itchy skin
  • tenderness or pain around the liver
  • tiny red lines (blood capillaries) on the skin above waist level
  • jaundice 

Other than a liver transplant, there is no cure for cirrhosis. However, treatments can help relieve some of the symptoms of cirrhosis and prevent the condition from worsening.

Read more about the treatment of cirrhosis.

Liver failure

In severe cases of cirrhosis, the liver loses most or all of its functions. The liver has a wide range of functions, such as filtering toxins from the blood and producing a number of important hormones.

This is known as liver failure or end stage liver disease. Liver failure occurs in around one in five people with hepatitis-associated cirrhosis.

Symptoms of liver failure include:

  • hair loss
  • build-up of fluid in the legs, ankles and feet (oedema)
  • build-up of fluid in your abdomen that can make you look heavily pregnant (ascites)
  • dark urine
  • black, tarry stools or very pale stools
  • frequent nosebleeds and bleeding gums
  • a tendency to bruise easily
  • vomiting blood

Once liver failure has occurred, it is usually possible to sustain life for several years using medication. However, a liver transplant is currently the only way to cure liver failure.

Liver cancer

It is estimated that around one in 20 people with hepatitis-associated cirrhosis will develop liver cancer.

Symptoms of liver cancer include:

  • unexplained weight loss
  • feeling sick
  • vomiting
  • tiredness
  • jaundice

It is usually not possible to cure liver cancer, especially in people with cirrhosis, though chemotherapy can be used to slow the spread of the cancer.

Read more about the treatment of liver cancer.

Other complications

Other rarer complications of chronic hepatitis C include:


Content Supplied by NHS Choices

Hepatitis C

Answers to questions about living with hepatitis C, including questions about diet, the workplace, travelling and having a baby.

Below are answers to some questions about living with hepatitis C, including questions about diet, the workplace, travelling and having a baby.

If you have hepatitis C, the following questions are answered below:

Do I need to eat a special diet?

You will not usually need to change what you eat, as long as you eat a healthy, varied diet.

If your liver is badly damaged, however, your doctor may suggest limiting your intake of salt and protein to avoid putting too much strain on your liver. The hospital dietitian can advise you on what you can and cannot eat.  

Could anything I do make hepatitis C worse?

Drinking alcohol can increase the damage to your liver. If you have hepatitis C, cut out or limit your intake of alcohol. If you need advice about this, ask your doctor or contact an alcohol self-help organisation.

Read more about tips on cutting down your alcohol consumption.

If you are concerned that you are addicted to alcohol and are unable to stop drinking, contact your GP. Medications are available to help people quit alcohol.

Read more about treating alcohol misuse.

Is there anything else I can do to help myself?

Control your weight by eating a healthy diet and exercising regularly (aim for 150 minutes a week).

Some studies suggest that being overweight raises the risk of fatty deposits in the liver, which could make your condition worse. Being a healthy weight can also help you respond better to treatment.

Read more about healthy eating and fitness.

Do I have to tell my boss?

You do not have to tell your boss that you have hepatitis C, unless you are a healthcare worker.

However, if hepatitis C is affecting your performance at work and your employer knows about your condition, they may be obliged to make allowances for you, such as giving you leave of absence for going to the clinic, under the Equality Act 2010. Therefore, you may want to consider telling your boss about your condition. You may also be entitled to statutory sick pay to cover doctor appointments or time off work.

Can I travel abroad?

If you are planning to travel abroad, seek advice from your doctor or a travel clinic about vaccination.

It is also a good idea to take any documentation, such as details of blood tests or medical records, in case you need medical treatment abroad.

Read more about travel vaccinations and accessing healthcare abroad.

Can I have a baby if I or my partner has hepatitis C?

Yes, but there is a small risk (around 2%) of hepatitis C passing from mother to baby. The risk is higher if the mother also has HIV. If the male partner has hepatitis C, there is a very small risk the virus could spread to the female during sex. If you are female with a male partner who has hepatitis C, you may want to have a hepatitis C test.


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