Depression and hepatitis C are two separate conditions. However, people with hepatitis C may have an increased risk of developing depression.

Hepatitis C may increase a person’s risk of developing mood disorders or depression. However, researchers are still unclear on how the two conditions are related.

It is possible that the increased risk for depression may be a side effect of certain hepatitis C medications. Additionally, the emotional impact or symptoms of hepatitis C may also play a role.

In this article, we look at the current research about the connection between hepatitis C and depression. We also look at symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment for both conditions.

A woman in profile with a downcast expression due to having depression. She is wearing red glasses and a lime green t-shirt. Share on Pinterest
Scott Zdon/Getty Images

Hepatitis C is an infection that affects the liver. The hepatitis C virus (HCV) causes the infection. People typically contract HCV when coming into contact with the blood of an infected person.

Acute hepatitis C happens within 6 months of contracting the virus. In some people, acute hepatitis C becomes chronic. Without proper treatment, chronic hepatitis C can cause severe health problems, such as liver damage.

Depression is a serious mental health condition that alters how people think and feel.

According to a 2017 review, hepatitis C may increase a person’s risk of developing depression. About one-third of people with hepatitis C also have depression.

The review suggests that the link between hepatitis C and depression may be due to reduced quality of life and increased healthcare costs.

According to a 2018 article, the following symptoms may also cause depression:

  • fatigue
  • a decrease in cognitive function (thinking)
  • physical symptoms, such as nausea and joint pain
  • increased psychosocial stress

In its early stages, an HCV infection may have a direct effect on the brain and nervous system, which may affect mood.

Changes to the brain and nervous system may lead to:

  • inflammation
  • changes in levels of neurotransmitters (chemicals used by the nervous system to send signals)
  • dysregulation of hormones
  • release of substances which have a negative effect on the nervous system

These factors may then lead to changes in how nerve cells in the brain function, which may affect:

  • mental state
  • emotions
  • motivation
  • attention
  • concentration

Depression or mood disorders may also be a side effect of certain hepatitis C medications.

According to a 2017 study, interferon-alpha (IFN-α) causes depression in up to 50% of people taking it.

Although researchers need further evidence, IFN-α-related depression may reoccur even after treatment ends. It is important that people monitor their mood while taking IFN-alpha and after they have completed treatment.

If people have hepatitis C and are experiencing any of the following symptoms consistently for at least 2 weeks, they should consider talking to a doctor, as they may be signs of depression:

  • feeling sad, anxious, or “empty”
  • feeling pessimism or hopelessness
  • irritability
  • feeling guilt, worthlessness, or helplessness
  • loss of interest or enjoyment in hobbies or activities
  • low energy or fatigue
  • talking or moving more slowly than usual
  • restlessness
  • memory problems
  • difficulty making decisions or concentrating
  • difficulty sleeping, waking earlier than usual in the morning, or oversleeping
  • changes to appetite or weight
  • thoughts of death or suicide
  • suicide attempts
  • aches, pains, headaches, or digestive issues that have no apparent physical cause, or do not ease with treatment

To diagnose depression, a healthcare professional will assess a person’s symptoms and medical history. They will also perform a physical examination. Additionally, they may take a blood test to ensure no other conditions or deficiencies are causing depression.

A healthcare professional may assess any medications people are taking, including all treatments for hepatitis C, to find out if any treatments could be causing the depression.

Treatment options for depression may include:

If certain hepatitis C treatments are causing depression, people may want to discuss alternative options with a doctor.

If people are taking interferon, preventative treatment with antidepressants, such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), are effective in treating depression.

Treating hepatitis C may help relieve symptoms of depression. People who receive treatment for HCV to clear the infection have shown an improvement in depression and quality of life.

Treatment for hepatitis C usually involves 8-12 weeks of oral medication. Treatment has a very high success rate of over 90% and causes few side effects.

Depression is a mood disorder that can cause severe symptoms and affect the way people think, feel, and cope with everyday life.

Some lifestyle changes may help to improve mood, such as:

  • regular exercise
  • avoiding alcohol
  • regular, quality sleep
  • talking to supportive friends, family, or colleagues

If people experience depression symptoms for more than 2 weeks or have any suicidal thoughts, it is important that they seek help from a qualified healthcare professional.

Suicide prevention

If you know someone at immediate risk of self-harm, suicide, or hurting another person:

  • Ask the tough question: “Are you considering suicide?”
  • Listen to the person without judgment.
  • Call 911 or the local emergency number, or text TALK to 741741 to communicate with a trained crisis counselor.
  • Stay with the person until professional help arrives.
  • Try to remove any weapons, medications, or other potentially harmful objects.

If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, a prevention hotline can help. The 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline is available 24 hours a day at 988. During a crisis, people who are hard of hearing can use their preferred relay service or dial 711 then 988.

Find more links and local resources.

Was this helpful?

If people find themselves or another person in a life-threatening situation, they should call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room.

Research has shown that people with hepatitis C have an increased risk of depression. Although researchers are still unclear how the two conditions are linked, possible reasons include both direct and indirect impacts of hepatitis C.

Fatigue, nausea, pain, and other physical symptoms of hepatitis C may reduce a person’s quality of life and negatively affect their mental health.

Side effects of some hepatitis C medications, such as interferon, may also cause depression.

If people have hepatitis C and experience any persistent symptoms of depression, they should talk with a healthcare professional.

Completing treatment for hepatitis C is important and may help to improve overall mood and quality of life.