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Joint Pain and Hepatitis

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Updated April 17, 2014

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Joint Pain and Hepatitis
Adam Ciesielski
Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C viruses infect (and affect) the liver. Sometimes these diseases also cause health problems that are “extrahepatic,” which means the problems occur outside the liver in other parts of the body. While not common, joint pain (arthralgia) and inflammation (arthritis) are two such conditions that might occur in people with these viruses.

What Are Arthralgia and Arthritis?

Arthralgia is pain in a joint, which is the point where bones meet each other. Arthritis is inflammation of a joint that will sometimes include swelling, redness and pain.

Will I Have Joint Pain?

It's possible. Joint pain is a common symptom of acute hepatitis (when symptoms are present) and chronic hepatitis. It's also a common side-effect of hepatitis medications such as peginterferon and ribavirin. Some studies suggest that nearly one-third of people with hepatitis C will have arthritis.

What Causes Joint Pain?

Many things cause joint pain. Infections are sometimes a cause, even those that don't specifically target joints and bones (such as hepatitis which targets liver cells). When people complain of joint pain with no obvious cause, doctors will sometimes look for undiagnosed infections, among other possibilities.

How Do Infections Cause Joint Pain?

It is not clear exactly why certain infections cause joint pain. Many doctors think that antibodies that the body makes in response to the infection end up cross-reacting with certain molecules in joint tissue, leading to inflammation and pain. In some patients with hepatitis C-associated arthritis, specific antibodies (called cryoglobulinemia) can be detected in blood samples.

What Can I Do to Ease the Pain?

For non-arthritis joint pain, sometimes using a heating pad or soaking in a warm bath can help reduce the pain. Gentle massage and stretching exercises might also help. There are medications (both prescription and over-the-counter) that can help relieve pain and inflammation, but if you have liver disease you should first speak with your doctor.

Sources:

MD Consult. Joint Pain Patient Fact Sheet. Elsevier, Inc. 2009.

Sanzone AM, Begue RE. Hepatitis C and Arthritis: An Update. Infectious Disease Clinics of North America, 20 (2006) 877-889.

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