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First Symptoms of Hepatitis C in Men

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Hepatitis C is a viral infection of the liver. Also known as HCV or hep C, the infection can occur when you come into contact with the blood or bodily fluids of an infected individual. To earlier you spot the symptoms of hepatitis C in men, the more effective your treatment can be. Keep reading to learn the first symptoms of hepatitis C in men.

The First Signs and Symptoms of Hepatitis C in Men

Hepatitis C can be a silent infection in many men. In fact, some men might not show any symptoms of hepatitis C for years after infection. Typically, the symptoms of hepatitis C don’t become noticeable until the virus has done enough damage to your liver. At that point – which could be months or years after your initial date of infection – you may notice symptoms like:

  • Bleeding and bruising easily
  • Fatigue
  • Low appetite
  • Jaundice (yellow discoloration of the skin or the whites of your eyes)
  • Swelling in your legs
  • Weight loss

As the infection progresses, men may start to notice more severe symptoms, including confusion, drowsiness, and slurred speech. Some men also develop spider-like blood vessels on their skin (spider angiomas).

The most important thing you need to know about hepatitis C symptoms in men is that during the acute phase, hepatitis C usually goes undiagnosed because it rarely causes symptoms. The acute phase is the first stage of the infection.

Sometimes, men with acute hepatitis C infections won’t always develop chronic hepatitis C. Some men clear HCV from their bodies after the acute phase. Studies have shown that anywhere from 20% to 50% of men will naturally clear the virus from their bodies. This process is called “spontaneous viral clearance”.

How is Hepatitis C Transmitted?

Hepatitis C infections are caused by the hepatitis C virus. The infection spreads when you come into contact with the blood or bodily fluids of an infected individual – like through unprotected sex or sharing a needle. Once the virus enters your bloodstream, the infection begins.

There are multiple hepatitis C genotypes around the world. In North America and Europe, the most common HCV genotype is type 1, although type 2 genotypes can also be spotted across the region. Other genotypes beyond type 1 and type 2 can be found in the Middle East, Asia, and Africa.

Depending on which genotype of HCV you have, your treatment options will vary.

Certain people are at a higher risk of contracting hepatitis C. Those people include:

  • Healthcare workers who have been exposed to infected blood (say, if a needle pierces your skin after contacting an infected person)
  • Anyone who injects or inhales illicit drugs
  • People with HIV
  • Anyone who has received a piercing or tattoo with unsterile equipment
  • Those who received a blood transfusion or organ transplant before 1992
  • Anyone who received clotting factor concentrates before 1987
  • Those who received hemodialysis treatments for a long period of time
  • Men born between 1945 and 1965 (this is the age group with the highest incidence of hepatitis C infection)

A mother can also pass the hepatitis C virus onto her child during vaginal childbirth. Furthermore, men who engage in sex with other men may also be at a higher risk of hepatitis C

General Symptoms of Hepatitis C in Men

We mentioned some of the initial symptoms of hepatitis C in men above. However, many men will not develop any symptoms of hepatitis C until long after the virus has infected the liver. With that in mind, here are some of the general symptoms of hepatitis C in men:

  • Dark-colored urine
  • Bruising or bleeding easily
  • Loss of appetite
  • Fatigue, or a tired feeling that persists for several weeks
  • Itchy skin
  • Swelling in your legs
  • Fluid buildup in your abdomen or extremities
  • Weight loss
  • Confusion and slurred speech (hepatic encephalopathy)
  • Spider-like blood vessels on the surface of your skin (spider angiomas)

Acute symptoms – including most of the symptoms above – can start to appear within 1 to 3 months of the date of infection. Once symptoms appear, they typically last anywhere from 2 weeks to 3 months.

Over time, hepatitis C can cause serious complications and health problems. The virus takes over your liver, which can cause issues like:

  • Scarring of the liver (cirrhosis), which takes place after about 20 to 30 years of hepatitis C infection
  • Liver cancer
  • Liver failure

When your liver is scarred, it makes it difficult for the liver to function. Advanced cirrhosis can also cause your liver to stop functioning altogether.

Overall, only a small number of men with hepatitis C will develop liver cancer.

What to Do If You Think You Have Hepatitis C

If you’ve noticed any of the symptoms listed above, then it’s crucial that you visit a doctor or healthcare center for further testing. A doctor can perform a complete physical, then test your blood to confirm the presence of hepatitis C.

The initial stage of a hepatitis C infection is called the acute phase. As the virus continues to affect your liver, it progresses into the chronic phase.

However, not all hepatitis C cases will become chronic. Some people clear HCV from their bodies after the acute phase. As mentioned above, this process is called spontaneous viral clearance. Some studies suggest that the rate of spontaneous viral clearance is as low as 14%, while others suggest it’s as high as 50%.

If your body doesn’t naturally clear the infection, then your doctor will likely begin antiviral therapy. Hepatitis C responds well to antiviral therapy.

The type of treatment you receive will vary based on the genotype of the hepatitis C virus you’re carrying.

Frequently Asked Questions About Hepatitis C in Men

Take Charge of Your Health

Getting tested is not only quick and easy, it’s the only way to know for sure if you do or do not have an STD.

Get Started Here

Are certain men more at risk for hepatitis C than others? Health care workers, gay men, and men born between 1945 and 1965 have higher reported rates of hepatitis C than other groups of men. Men who have been in prison, received a tattoo in an unsterile environment, or received a blood transfusion/organ transplant before 1992 are also at a higher risk.

Can I spread hepatitis C even if I don’t have symptoms? You can spread the hepatitis C virus to others at any time, even if you don’t have symptoms.

About Monica Silva

Monica Silva graduated from University of Michigan School of Public Health studying health behavior and health education. She is passionate about improving access to sexual and reproductive health care, and addressing gender-based violence. She was involved in reproductive health advocacy and the creation of Youth Friendly Pharmacies that provide a wide spectrum of sexual and reproductive health services.

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