Hepatitis C Can Cause Rheumatic Diseases

Hepatitis C can be one of the Reasons for Rheumatic Diseases

Conceptual image of the Hepatitis C virus
Conceptual image of the Hepatitis C virus. Stocktrek Images / Getty Images

Hepatitis C virus or HCV is usually the main cause of liver inflammation which can lead to liver failure, and the person may end up with liver transplant as a treatment option. Still, HCV doesn’t produce just liver inflammation. It is also associated with hematologic, renal, dermatologic, rheumatic, and autoimmune disorders. Some of the earliest symptoms for HCV infections are arthritis symptoms such as inflammation of joints, pain in the muscles, and overall weakness.

These symptoms can appear early before a person even knows he has HCV. Also, swelling of joints and blood vessels (vasculitis) can occur as a sign of HCV infections.

A Few Quick Facts about HCV and Rheumatic Diseases

  • Problems which show arthritis-like joint pains and muscle pains are very common in a patient with an HCV infection.
  • Most infections with the hepatitis virus have no apparent symptoms in the first stages.
  • These days the risk of getting HCV through a blood transfusion is very low, but before 1990, this was the most likely way to get infected.
  • Usually HCV is transferred from one person to another through bodily fluids such as sperm, vaginal secretions, and blood.
  • If you use injectable drugs or have involved yourself in sexual behavior which is highly risky (like multiple partners, homosexual intercourse, and so on) you increase your chances of getting infected. That’s why people who are HCV positive should also get tested for HIV. People who share equipment for snorting cocaine can also be included in the high-risk group.
  • If you are diagnosed with a rheumatic disease such as arthritis, you should take an HCV test infection too.

Why does HCV cause Rheumatic Diseases?

Usually this all happens in the body during an HCV infection. All in all, it is the way the body reacts to the virus. The joint and muscle pains are due to the fact that the immune system is stimulated continuously to fight the virus.

That’s why the body starts to show symptoms of rheumatic disease that can range from cryoglobulinemia to serious consequence like kidney failure. Cryoglobulins are anomalous proteins within the blood that get solidified when exposed to cold temperatures. This is how cryoglobulinemia occurs.

HCV-associated rheumatic diseases can affect people who have been found HCV positive irrespective of their age or gender. It can even be transmitted from mother to baby during birth (in rare cases).

How to Live with HCV Rheumatic Diseases

These problems can be really annoying and they can make your life pretty difficult if you don’t take action. Your normal day-to-day activities may even get affected adversely. You need to go and see a good rheumatologist who will advise you on how and what to do in your unique case. Still, you must keep a strong connection between the two doctors that are treating you: the one treating your liver and the one treating your joints and muscle pains. The treatments can be very complex in both cases and you never know which medication can interact with the other.

For instance, HCV is treated with interferons or antiviral drugs such as ribavirin. These have side effects like joint pain.

You must act quickly once you are tested positive as the liver problems can aggravate pretty fast resulting in failure or even cancer. If you feel the need, there are support groups that help you in learning ways of living with a rheumatic disease. These groups can help you cope with the new situation.

Things to Remember about Hepatitis and Rheumatic Diseases

An HCV infection doesn’t necessarily mean that you have hepatitis. You can be a carrier and still have the muscle and joint problems. If you get these problems go and get tested as soon as possible. HCV doesn’t feel like anything that is entirely describable. Besides rheumatic diseases, HCV doesn’t show any other early signs. If you ignore the arthritis, you may be ignoring an HCV infection too.  

There is treatment for rheumatic disease, but for the early stages. In the future, there may be more viable options for those who suffer from it for a long time. There are treatment options available for such rheumatic problems. New medicines have come up that have improved the patient conditions by bettering the treatment.

References:

Buskila D. Hepatitis C-associated rheumatic disorders. Rheum Dis Clin North Am. 2009 Feb;35(1):111-23.

Izumi Y, Komori A, Yasunaga Y, Hashimoto S, Miyashita T, Abiru S, Yatsuhashi H, Ishibashi H, Migita K. Rheumatoid arthritis following a treatment with IFN-alpha/ribavirin against HCV infection. Intern Med. 2011;50(9):1065-8.

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