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There are three stages of hepatitis C: early, chronic, and final. Many people in the early hepatitis C stages do not even realize they have the disease because there are occasionally no symptoms, or the symptoms are so mild that people believe they are sick with the flu. Chronic hepatitis C occurs when people are unable to get rid of hepatitis C and it becomes an ongoing problem. In the final stage of hepatitis C, liver failure often occurs, which sometimes leads to death. There are many people in the early stages of hepatitis C who go for as long as 20 years before they experience any serious, life-threatening symptoms.
The most common symptoms people experience during the early stages of hepatitis C are vomiting, joint aches, and fever. Sometimes these symptoms are also accompanied by a yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes, also known as jaundice. People with hepatitis C may additionally notice that their urine is darker in color than normal and that their skin is unusually itchy. Many people who get hepatitis C are able to fight it off and never have any further problems with the disease, but some people go on to develop chronic hepatitis C, which is the second stage of the illness. People who are in the beginning stages of hepatitis C do not always require treatment if the illness goes away on its own.
During chronic hepatitis C, the majority of people begin to notice severe symptoms. Weight loss, abdominal pain, and severe liver problems are common during the second stage. Many people develop cirrhosis and liver scarring when they have chronic hepatitis C. During this stage, fatigue is incredibly common and may be the first sign a person might experience to alert her that something is seriously wrong. There are many people who never realize they have hepatitis C until they reach this stage of the illness.
The last stage of hepatitis C is the most life-threatening. Liver failure, intestinal bleeding, and high blood pressure are common during the final hepatitis C stage. People who are in this stage of hepatitis C might also develop liver cancer. When the liver has become severely damaged from hepatitis C, sometimes the only option for treatment is a liver transplant. Even after a liver transplant is done, hepatitis C is likely to recur, and patients usually have to continue taking antiviral medications to help prevent future problems.