Hepatitis C is a disease caused by inflammation of the liver as a result of the hepatitis C virus (HCV). Like the flu, Hepatitis C passes from one person to another. But because it’s a bloodborne virus, it’s only passed when infected blood enters the body of a non-infected person.
Since hepatitis C affects the liver, you’ll be referred to a hepatologist. A hepatologist is a physician who specializes in diagnosing and treating conditions of the liver. You may also work with several other healthcare providers, including infectious disease specialists, radiologists, surgeons, and specially trained nurses. Together, these specialists will form your healthcare team.
Educating yourself about hepatitis C and asking specific questions allows you to be an active participant rather than just a patient. Here are some topics to consider discussing with your team during your appointments.
Hepatitis C doesn’t always require treatment. When treatment is necessary, the goal is to completely clear your body of the virus and prevent potential liver damage from occurring.
Two commonly used drugs, interferon and ribavirin, have been successfully used to treat hepatitis C for several years. These drugs are given as injections over a 48-week period. Newer drugs, called direct antiviral agents (DAA), have also been successful. DAAs only require 12 weeks of treatment. They’re also more effective than Interferon and Ribavirin with certain types of the virus.
Unfortunately, treatment isn’t always effective. If this is the case, your doctor may suggest a liver transplant.
Here are some questions about treatment that you should consider asking:
- What treatment options are available for me?
- How long will my treatment last?
- How can I prepare for my treatments?
- What side effects should I be looking for?
- Is there anything I can do to avoid side effects?
- What are the chances my treatment may not be effective?
- Should I avoid using any medications or substances, such as alcohol?
- Will I eventually need a liver transplant?
About 80 percent of people with hepatitis C may have no symptoms. Acute (or short-term) symptoms can occur within four to six weeks after you become infected.
You may experience the following the symptoms:
- general fatigue or “flu-like” symptoms
- low grade fever (101.5°F or below)
- decreased appetite
- nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain
- dark-colored urine
- gray-colored feces
- joint pain
- jaundice (yellowing of your eyes and skin)
You should ask your team how to best manage your symptoms, and how you can improve how you feel. Acute symptoms can last up to six months. After that time, your body either rids itself of the virus or the virus remains in your blood stream.
If your body can’t get rid of the virus, it may become a chronic (or long-term) infection. Chronic hepatitis C may cause liver damage and liver cancer. Roughly 75 to 80 percent of people in the United States with hepatitis C will develop a chronic infection.
In addition to medical treatment, positive lifestyle changes may also help you treat your condition. Talk to your team about what you can do to improve your symptoms. Also ask about specific diet and exercise recommendations.
Sometimes, people being treated for hepatitis C experience changes in their mood or mental health. These changes are most often caused by medications, but learning you have hepatitis C may also affect your mental health.
Some changes to be aware of include:
- feeling depressed
- being anxious or irritable
- feeling more emotional
- having difficulty focusing or concentrating
- having difficulty sleeping
Even though it may be difficult, talk to your team about any changes in your mental health. Your team can provide recommendations and occasionally prescribe medications that may help. You may also consider seeking out support groups. Talking with others who have hepatitis C can help you maintain a positive outlook.