The hepatitis C virus (HCV) often does not always cause symptoms, but if the infection becomes chronic, it can cause complications over time. One of them is inflammation and pain in the joints.
Sometimes, joint pain is the first symptom seen by people with HCV and in some cases, it may indicate arthritis. HCV is also associated with other conditions that can cause joint pain, such as fibromyalgia.
This article discusses the relationship between hepatitis C and joint pain, including its causes, related conditions, and treatment.
The reason why HCV can lead to joint pain is due to the immune system. As the body tries to destroy and clear the virus, the immune system is activated, which can cause inflammation in the joints. With HCV acid, this symptom is usually temporary and goes away when the immune system clears the virus.
Hyperactivity of the immune system can also result in the body accidentally attacking its own healthy tissues, as well as other conditions, such as cryoglobulinemia. Cryoglobulinemia occurs when proteins in the blood become solid when they cool down, which can cause blood vessel problems or Raynaud’s disease.
Chronic HCV requires medical treatment, but it can be difficult to diagnose because it does not always cause obvious symptoms. Some people experience joint or muscle pain before they realize they have HCV. In fact, muscle or joint pain along with unexplained fatigue tend to be the most common initial symptoms of chronic hepatitis C.
The following sections discuss some of the rheumatic conditions that HCV is associated with.
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) occurs when the immune system accidentally attacks the tissue that aligns the joints. Symptoms include:
- painful and sensitive joints, often starting in the small joints of the hands or feet
- joint stiffness in the morning lasting 30 minutes or more
- symmetrical joint pain affecting both sides of the body, e.g. both hands
- unexplained fatigue
- low fever
According to the Arthritis Foundation, researchers believe that viruses and other pathogens can cause RA to develop in people with certain genes. Treatment usually includes a combination of medications to reduce pain and inflammation and lifestyle changes to help a person manage their symptoms.
It is also possible for people with HCV to be positive
Learn more about RA and its treatment.
Fibromyalgia is a condition that causes extensive pain in the body as well as other symptoms. Doctors are not sure how it develops, but viral diseases are one of the risk factors. Early research suggests that there may be an association specifically with HCV.
In a 2019 study, 7.6% of women with HCV also had fibromyalgia. The authors of the study concluded that there was a positive relationship between the two conditions. People with RA are also more likely to get fibromyalgia.
Symptoms of fibromyalgia may include:
- widespread pain
- unexplained fatigue
- sleep problems
- problems with memory, thinking or concentration
- increased sensitivity to pain
- headaches and migraines
- tingling or numbness in the legs or arms
- digestive symptoms
- pain in the jaw or face
- anxiety and depression
There is no known cure for fibromyalgia, so treatment focuses on reducing pain, improving quality of life and addressing any underlying factors that could contribute to the condition.
In addition to viruses, risk factors for fibromyalgia include experiencing traumatic events or post-traumatic stress disorder, recurring bodily injuries, and obesity.
Learn more about treating fibromyalgia.
According to the American College of Rheumatology, 97% of people taking immediate-acting antivirals (DAAs) for HCV fully recover from the virus. In many cases, treating the infection improves or completely cures any joint pain.
For this reason, it is important to seek testing and treatment as soon as possible to avoid long-term joint damage. Meanwhile, joint and liver specialists should work together to help manage a person’s joint pain safely and effectively, as some arthritis medications may not be suitable for people with HCV.
For example, many RA drugs can damage the liver. If a person already has some liver damage due to advanced HCV, these medications will not be suitable for him. Tumor drugs with necrosis agents appear to be safe for use in people with HCV, and researchers are trying more.
Anyone who suspects they may have HCV should talk to a doctor as soon as possible. This may be because they have new or unexplained symptoms, because they have many risk factors for HCV infection, or both.
Tell your doctor about any:
- joint pain or stiffness
- muscle pain
- fatigue that causes difficulty in daily activities
- low fever
These symptoms do not necessarily mean that a person has HCV, but a doctor can investigate the cause and find out.
It is also important to tell your doctor about any risk factors that make HCV infection more likely. These include:
- any previous or current use of injectable drugs or non-sterile needles
- any previous or current use of common organisms for the smell of drugs, such as cocaine
- any exposure to HCV-containing blood, e.g. in a healthcare setting
- having received a blood transfusion or organ transplant before
July 1992in the USA
- have HIV
- to be born to a person with HCV
Hepatitis C can cause joint pain and can cause conditions such as RA. However, DAA treatment is very effective and can treat joint problems associated with HCV. Seeking tests as early as possible is vital to preventing the development of more serious or irreversible complications.
Talk to your doctor about any unexplained joint pain or stiffness, especially if it presents with other symptoms, such as fatigue or a low-grade fever.