Treatment for hepatitis C has two goals: to clear the virus and to prevent damage–or further damage–to the liver. If you have acute hepatitis C, which means the disease was diagnosed within the first six months after exposure, your doctor might want to see if your body clears the virus on its own. If not, he might suggest treatment. If there is no liver damage, your treatment might be more of a management strategy–adopting healthy lifestyle choices and regular monitoring of your liver function.
Medications and medical treatment
There are two main drugs that have been used to treat chronic hepatitis C: interferon and ribavirin. These drugs help strengthen the immune response and interfere with the virus’ ability to replicate itself. Interferon is given by injection once a month, while ribavirin is taken orally each day. This treatment can last anywhere from several weeks to a year. The treatment is considered successful if there is no sign of the virus 24 weeks after treatment has ended.
These medications, however, can have side effects, including:
- Flu-like symptoms, such as fever, headache and muscle aches
- Anxiety, irritability or depression
- Nausea and diarrhea
- Weight loss
- Thyroid problems
- Chest pain
Late last year, however, the FDA approved the use of new medications that in some cases eliminate the need for interferon. Patients should ask their doctor if this treatment is suitable for their strain of hepatitis C.
If you have not already been vaccinated against hepatitis A and B, your doctor might recommend that you receive these. Additional complications are possible if you have more than one type of hepatitis. Your doctor might recommend that you have annual flu shots and the Pneumovax. You should also have regular tetanus boosters.
You should talk to your doctor before taking any over-the-counter medications, supplements and herbal remedies. Because medications are metabolized by the liver, taking medications can further damage your liver. There are some medications, such as acetaminophen, which have been linked to liver damage, which your doctor may recommend you avoid altogether.
Once you are diagnosed with hepatitis C, even if you don’t receive medical treatment, you should have regular screenings to determine your liver function and check if you are developing cirrhosis or liver cancer.
In some cases, your doctor may not recommend any specific medical treatment other than regular liver screening. Even so, there are some things you can do to help prevent liver damage:
Avoid alcohol. _ _This is the leading cause of cirrhosis and is a contributing factor to liver cancer. If you have hepatitis C and have any liver damage, continued use of alcohol can increase liver damage.
**Watch your weight. **People who maintain a healthy weight have better treatment outcomes than those who are obese. If you are overweight, talk to your doctor about what you can do to lose weight and what a healthy weight would be.
Take steps to protect others. Hepatitis C is spread through blood. If you have a cut, keep it covered to prevent transferring blood to others. Take precautionary steps when using sharp objects such as razors or knives.
Practice safe sex. Although it is rare to spread hepatitis C through sex, it does happen. You should always have safe sex and notify partners that you have hepatitis C.
Living with a chronic disease is stressful. Be sure you have a network of friends and relatives you can talk to about your concerns and health issues. Look for a support group either in person or online, so you can share experiences. Incorporate exercise and stress-reducing techniques, such as meditation, into your daily life to help relieve stress.
"Diagnosis, Management and Treatment of Hepatitis C: An Update," Date Unknown, Marc G. Ghany et al, AASLD Practice Guidelines
"Interferon and Ribavirin Treatment Side Effects," Date Unknown, Staff Writer, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs
"Recommendations for Testing, Managing and Treating Hepatitis C," Updated 2014, March 12, Staff Writer, American Association of the Study of Liver Diseases
Eileen Bailey is a freelance health writer. She is the author of What Went Right: Reframe Your Thinking for a Happier Now, Idiot’s Guide to Adult ADHD, Idiot’s Guide to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Essential Guide to Overcoming Obsessive Love, and Essential Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome. She can be found on Twitter @eileenmbailey and on Facebook at eileenmbailey.