Hepatitis C

  • Alternative Names

    Non-A hepatitis; Non-B hepatitis


    Treatment

    The goals of HCV treatment are to remove the virus from the blood and reduce the risk of cirrhosis and liver cancer that can result from long-term HCV infection.

    Many patients with hepatitis C benefit from treatment with medications. The most common medications are a combination of pegylated interferon alfa and ribavirin, an antiviral medication.

    • Most patients receive weekly injections of pegylated interferon alfa.
    • Ribavirin is a capsule taken twice daily. Ribavirin can cause birth defects. Women should avoid getting pregnant during, and for 6 months after treatment.
    • Treatment is given for 24 - 48 weeks.

    These medications have a number of side effects, and patients must be watched closely. Symptoms include:

    • Anemia
    • Depression
    • Fatigue
    • Fever
    • Flu-like symptoms
    • Headache
    • Irritability
    • Loss of appetite
    • Low white blood cell counts and platelets
    • Nausea
    • Thinning of hair
    • Vomiting

    See: Cirrhosis for information about treating more severe liver damage caused by hepatitis C.

    Patients who develop cirrhosis or liver cancer may be candidates for a liver transplant.

    People with hepatitis C should also:

    • Be careful not to take vitamins, nutritional supplements, or new over-the-counter medications without first discussing it with their health care provider.
    • Avoid any substances that are toxic to the liver (hepatotoxic), including alcohol. Even moderate amounts of alcohol speed up the progression of hepatitis C, and alcohol reduces the effectiveness of treatment.
    • Get vaccinated against hepatitis A and B.

    Support Groups

    You can often ease the stress of illness by joining a support group of people who share common experiences and problems. See liver disease - resources.


    Expectations (prognosis)

    Most people with hepatitis C infection have the chronic form.

    Patients with genotypes 2 or 3 are more likely to respond to treatment than patients with genotype 1.

    The chance of removing the hepatitis C virus from the blood with treatment is over 90% for some people. Even if treatment does not remove the virus, it can reduce the chance of severe liver disease.

    Many doctors use the term "sustained virologic response" rather than "cure" when the virus is removed from the blood, because it is not known whether this will last a person's entire life.

    Hepatitis C is one of the most common causes of chronic liver disease in the United States today. People with this condition may have:

    • Cirrhosis of the liver
    • Liver cancer (also called hepatocellular cancer) -- may develop in a small number of people with liver cirrhosis

    Hepatitis C usually comes back after a liver transplant, which can lead to cirrhosis of the new liver.


    Calling your health care provider

    Call your health care provider if:

    • You develop symptoms of hepatitis
    • You believe you have been exposed to the hepatitis C virus