What to know about hepatitis C in men
According to a 2014 study paper that appears in The Journal of Infectious Diseases, an estimated 2.1 percent of men and 1.1 percent of women in the United States have hepatitis C. These statistics are similar in Europe.
Men are also more likely to have more severe side effects and liver scarring that occurs at a faster rate.
Around 73.6 percent of cirrhosis cases in the U.S. occur in men. Older research that the authors of the 2014 study paper cite found that in men, the condition progresses to fibrosis, or scarring, around 39 percent faster than it does in women.
What are the main symptoms of hepatitis C in men?
A person may experience fatigue with hepatitis C infection.
Hepatitis C may begin with an acute infection. This can cause an illness that may seem flu-like. Acute hepatitis C infection symptoms include:
Some people's bodies clear hepatitis C on their own. However, this is not always the case, and the virus may therefore progress to a chronic infection.
Healthcare professionals sometimes call hepatitis C a "silent infection" because people may have it for a long time without knowing.
While not all people will experience symptoms, some may have symptoms that include:
- appetite loss
- easy bleeding
- easy bruising
- itching skin
- spider-like blood vessels on the skin
- swelling in the legs
- yellow discoloration of the skin or eyes
If symptoms do arise and the person seeks medical care, a doctor can diagnose hepatitis C before the person experiences any complications.
Being male and more than 50 years of age are risk factors for developing cirrhosis.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a key risk factor for a man is having condomless sex with another man.
However, it is much more common for hepatitis C to be transmitted by using shared needles than through sexual contact.
Men who have sex with men are also more likely to get hepatitis C if they:
- have a history of sexually transmitted infection or HIV
- have sex with multiple people
- have rough sex
There are also some risk factors that cause a person to be more likely to experience liver scarring from hepatitis C. If a person with cirrhosis has a liver with excessive scarring, they may experience liver failure. According to the CDC, the risk factors for developing cirrhosis include:
- being male
- being age 50 or older
- having a history of hepatitis B or HIV
- having a history of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease
- taking immunosuppressive drugs
- consuming alcohol
Men should speak with their doctor about how to treat hepatitis C and reduce the risks that their condition will worsen.
Diagnosis and testing for men
It is very possible that the number of people with hepatitis C is much higher than estimates suggest, as some people do not know that they have the condition.
- children born to a mother with hepatitis C
- people who currently use or formerly used intravenous drugs
- any person born in 1945–1965
- any person taking clotting factor concentrated before 1987
- any person who underwent a blood transfusion or solid organ transplant before July 1992
- any person undergoing hemodialysis
- healthcare workers
- people who also have an HIV infection
- people who have an unregulated tattoo
A blood test can determine whether or not a man has the hepatitis C virus.
What are the treatment options for men?
Hepatitis C is capable of causing a chronic infection that could lead to serious complications, including cirrhosis and liver cancer.
However, there are treatments available that can cure hepatitis C in an estimated 90 percent of people, according to the CDC. People usually take these medications for 8–12 weeks.
It is possible for a person to get the virus again, however. Also, medications that may cure hepatitis C do not reverse the damage already done to the liver in the form of scarring.
As a result, a doctor will usually recommend avoiding drinking alcohol and taking medications that the liver usually metabolizes, in order to reduce the risk of further liver damage.
Using unregulated tattoo parlors can put a person at risk of hepatitis C.
There are vaccines to prevent the transmission of hepatitis A and hepatitis B, but there is no vaccine for hepatitis C.
It is important that a person engage in preventive measures to ensure that they do not get the virus.
Examples of these include:
- wearing condoms
- never sharing needles
- considering other treatments, such as methadone or buprenorphine, to avoid injecting or stop using drugs
- seeking reputable tattoo and body piercing parlors
If a person suspects that they may be at risk of hepatitis C, they should talk to their doctor.
Hepatitis C affects men more often and more severely than it does women.
If a person seeks immediate medical care, a doctor can diagnose and treat men with hepatitis C before they experience severe complications, such as liver cirrhosis.
If a person has risk factors for hepatitis C, they should talk to their doctor about undergoing testing.