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Complications - Hepatitis C

If left untreated, hepatitis C can sometimes cause scarring of the liver (cirrhosis). This can develop up to 20 years or more after you first become infected.

Some things can increase your risk of getting cirrhosis, including:

Up to 1 in 3 people infected with hepatitis C develop cirrhosis in 20 to 30 years if they do not have treatment. Some of these can go on to develop liver failure or liver cancer.


If you have cirrhosis, the scarred tissue in your liver gradually replaces healthy tissue. This stops the liver from working properly.

You may not have any symptoms in the early stages. But you will have regular appointments with a specialist because of the risk of liver cancer and further damage to your liver.

As your liver becomes damaged, you may:

  • feel very tired and weak
  • feel sick (nausea)
  • lose your appetite
  • lose weight and muscle mass
  • get red patches on your palms and small, spider-like blood vessels on your skin (spider angiomas) above waist level
  • tenderness or pain in your tummy

If cirrhosis gets worse, you can develop symptoms of liver failure.

There's no cure for cirrhosis. But lifestyle changes and hepatitis C medicines can help stop the condition from getting worse.

Living with hepatitis C

Liver failure

In severe cases of cirrhosis, the liver loses most or all of its functions. This is known as liver failure or end-stage liver disease.

About 1 in 20 people with cirrhosis from hepatitis C develop liver failure each year.

Symptoms of liver failure include:

It's usually possible to live with liver failure some years by taking medicines. But a liver transplant is currently the only way to cure liver failure.

Liver cancer

Having cirrhosis increases your risk of developing liver cancer.

If you have cirrhosis, you will have:

  • regular appointments with a liver specialist
  • ultrasounds for liver cancer screening every 6 months

It is important to go to these appointments because most people with early stages of liver cancer have no symptoms. But liver cancer can be cured if it is diagnosed at an early stage.

Symptoms of liver cancer

When liver cancer progresses, symptoms can include:

It's not usually possible to cure liver cancer after symptoms start to show. But treatment can help manage your symptoms and slow the spread of the cancer.

Content supplied by the NHS and adapted for Ireland by the HSE

Page last reviewed: 8 February 2023
Next review due: 8 February 2026