Hepatitis C is a liver disease, but it can affect your whole body. A hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection starts by causing damage to your liver. Without your liver functioning in a healthy way, you’re at risk for many other health conditions.

The condition most often linked to HCV infection is a blood disorder called cryoglobulinemia. About 70 to 90 percent of cryoglobulinemia cases are linked to HCV.

The condition can cause damage to your skin, nerves, and organs. Treatment for cryoglobulinemia includes treating HCV and any other damage caused to your body.

Cryoglobulinemia is a condition that affects your blood vessels and circulation. It’s caused by atypical proteins called cryoglobulins that can clump together in your blood when you’re cold and your body temperature is low. The protein clumps make it hard for your blood to circulate correctly.

The protein clumps in the blood may contain rheumatoid factor. These are proteins that can affect your tissues. This can lead to skin, nerve, joint, and even organ damage.

There are three types of cryoglobulinemia:

  • Type 1 is usually found in people with an underlying condition, such as cancer.
  • Types 2 and 3 are also referred to as mixed cryoglobulinemia. These types are typically found in people who have an HCV infection.

Other viruses known to cause cryoglobulinemia include:

Not everyone with HCV will develop cryoglobulinemia. Some people with HCV have risk factors that make it more likely cryoglobulinemia will occur. Risk factors include:

  • having lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, or another autoimmune condition
  • being between 40 and 60 years old
  • being assigned female at birth

You can have cryoglobulinemia without having any symptoms at all. If symptoms do develop, they can vary depending on what joints or organs are affected. Some of the most common symptoms involve your skin and nerves, but cryoglobulinemia can affect your whole body.

Symptoms of cryoglobulinemia include:

Raynaud’s phenomenon

Cryoglobulinemia can also cause a condition called Raynaud’s phenomenon. People with Raynaud’s phenomenon experience a change in skin color when their skin gets cold. Skin can turn white, purple, or blue.

There are many causes for Raynaud’s phenomenon, and the condition can sometimes occur with no underlying cause at all. When it happens due to cryoglobulinemia, it’s the result of damage to your blood vessels and nerves.

The first step to a cryoglobulinemia diagnosis is a conversation with a doctor. The doctor will go over your health history and conduct a physical exam. You’ll likely also have a few tests done to confirm the diagnosis.

Tests might include:

If your doctor thinks that the cryoglobulinemia has damaged an organ or tissue in your body, you might also have a biopsy. A biopsy is when a medical professional removes a tiny piece of tissue so that they can examine it in a lab.

This is sometimes done with a long needle but can require surgery. The type of biopsy you need will depend on the organ or tissue that is damaged.

Your treatment plan for cryoglobulinemia will depend on your symptoms and on the organs that have been affected. No matter what, a large part of your treatment plan will be treating HCV.

Treating HCV can reduce the symptoms of cryoglobulinemia and stop it from damaging your tissues and organs. Doctors treat HCV with antiviral medications.

You might see a team of doctors to help treat your HCV and cryoglobulinemia. They’ll help balance the treatment of your HCV, the treatment of your cryoglobulinemia, and the treatment of any organ or tissue damage.

Other treatments might include:

Your doctor may also recommend changes to your diet. Called a low antigen complement (LAC), this diet may help to clear cryoglobulins from your blood. An LAC diet usually means not eating or drinking any of the following:

Cryoglobulinemia is not the only condition linked to HCV. The virus affects and damages your liver, making it unable to complete its typical functions in your body. This can impact the way your whole body works and is why HCV may increase your risk of developing other conditions.

Here are some conditions commonly linked to HCV:

Diabetes mellitus

HCV can affect how your body breaks down and uses sugars called glucose. It can increase your insulin resistance. Increased insulin resistance can cause you to have high blood sugar levels and is a risk factor for developing type 2 diabetes.

HCV can also affect your body’s immune system and cause autoimmune conditions, including type 1 diabetes.

Learn more about the link between HCV and diabetes.

Cardiovascular disease

HCV can increase your risk of heart attacks, strokes, and congestive heart failure. Research shows that people with HCV are more likely to have plaque buildup inside their arteries. This can lead to multiple cardiovascular diseases.

Glomerulonephritis

Glomerulonephritis is a type of kidney disease. It happens when the filters in your kidneys, called glomeruli, become inflamed. It can cause permanent kidney damage. Studies link HCV to a higher risk of developing glomerulonephritis.

Porphyria cutanea tarda

Porphyria cutanea tarda (PCT) is a condition that causes painful blisters to appear on your skin after you’ve been in the sun. A buildup of chemicals called porphyrins in your blood causes PCT.

HCV harms your body’s ability to regulate porphyrins. The resulting buildup can lead to PCT.

Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma

HCV is linked to a higher risk of developing some types of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma (NHL). NHL starts in your immune system and causes atypical white blood cells to grow and form tumors.

A recent study shows that people with HCV are, on average, 2.2 times more likely to develop non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

Sjögren’s syndrome

Sjögren’s syndrome is an autoimmune condition that causes your body’s immune system to affect your saliva and tear-producing cells. It can lead to dry mouth and dry eye. HCV is linked to the development of Sjögren’s syndrome.

Depression

HCV can increase the risk of depression. Multiple studies have shown that people with HCV are more likely to experience depression.

Researchers are not sure if the stress of living with HCV causes this increased risk or if certain medications for HCV can cause depression. Studies have looked into both causes.

You can read more about HCV and depression here.

Cognitive impairment

HCV can cause fatigue and, over time, can lead to cognitive impairment. People with HCV can develop difficulties with attention and memory. They might find it harder to take in new information or perform tasks at work or school.

Together, these symptoms are sometimes called “brain fog.”

HCV affects your liver and causes inflammation and damage. Your body cannot stay healthy with a damaged liver. That’s why HCV can lead to a variety of other health conditions.

One of the best ways to prevent complications is a treatment plan for HCV. The antiviral medications you take for HCV can control the virus and prevent it from causing complications. In fact, newly developed antiviral treatments can cure HCV for 90 percent of people.

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