The initial stage of hepatitis C is the acute phase, which often has mild symptoms, according to Healthline. After that, for most people, the disease progresses into the chronic phase, which may have few or no symptoms for 15 or more years.
Eventually, chronic hepatitis C may progress into the end stage, reports Healthline. This occurs when cirrhosis of the liver progresses into liver cancer or liver failure. This often results in death if a liver transplant cannot be done. End stage symptoms include jaundice, fatigue, nausea and abdominal swelling. Confusion and bleeding in the esophagus can also occur.
The chronic phase of the disease often has few symptoms and progresses at an unpredictable rate, as noted by the C. Everett Koop Institute. Some patients with chronic hepatitis C may live normal lives even while experiencing cirrhosis. Lifestyle factors, such as heavy alcohol consumption, may speed up the progression of the disease. There are also medications and other treatments that can help keep the disease in check.
The acute phase typically lasts less than six months, reports Everyday Health. The symptoms are often so mild that people do not realize they are infected. Symptoms such as fatigue, nausea and muscle soreness are often mistaken for other illnesses, including the flu. Around 15 to 25 percent of people who get acute hepatitis C do not progress into chronic infection.