Hepatitis C is a liver disease, caused by a virus spread by exposure to infected blood.
The virus causes inflammation of the liver, an organ responsible for cleansing toxins from the blood, making the cells that are part of the blood, and creating and adjusting hormones. Hepatitis C is an insidious disease; it can stay in the body for decades before it causes noticeable symptoms.
Initial symptoms of the disease include:
- Pain in the upper right abdomen (where the liver is)
- Abdominal swelling because of fluid buildup
- Yellowing of the skin and the whites of the eyes
If hepatitis C is left untreated, then liver problems become more serious. It can cause the following:
- Cirrhosis, which is when significant portions of the liver have been replaced with scar tissue
- Liver cancer
- Liver failure
As the liver fails, the blood becomes toxic, the body’s hormones become imbalanced, and the blood vessels that carry nutrients from the digestive system to the rest of the body get worse and worse.
Hepatitis C is usually treated with antiviral medications, which are intended to kill the virus. In some cases, the side effects of treatments are severe enough that treatment must be stopped. In cases where the disease has progressed to the more serious complications, liver transplants may be needed. Even if a liver transplant is done, antiviral medications are still needed to make sure that the disease does not come back to infect the new liver.
Hepatitis C is listed in Social Security’s Listing of Impairments under sections 5.4.c. and 5.4.d., part of digestive disorders. Social Security evaluates digestive disorders on the basis of how severe the disease is, how long it lasts, and how well treatment is working. Liver disease in particular is evaluated by checking for symptoms such as fatigue, nausea, loss of appetite, buildup of fluid in the abdomen, and changes in mental functioning. Various other symptoms of liver disease are listed in sections 5.6., 5.7., 5.8., and 5.9.