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Treating Hepatitis C with Medicines

Man talking to doctor.
During treatment, follow your doctor’s instructions exactly.

Hepatitis C is treated using medicines that help your body fight the hepatitis C virus (HCV). Treatment cures hepatitis C infection in most people.

How antiviral medicine works

Antiviral medicine stops a virus from reproducing in the body. You need to take the medicines for weeks or months for them to work. If the hepatitis C virus can’t be found in a blood test 12 weeks after treatment, the infection is considered to be cured. This is called sustained virologic response (SVR). At that point, you can also no longer transmit the virus to other people.

In some cases, the hepatitis C virus is still found in the blood after treatment. Staying on a strict medicine schedule can help prevent this.

There are different kinds of antiviral medicines for hepatitis C. And there are different types of the hepatitis C virus. The types of virus are called genotypes, and numbered 1 through 6. Your genotype is found with a blood test. Genotypes 1, 2, and 3 are the most common. Each is treated with different antiviral medicines.

Creating your treatment plan

You will likely take at least one medicine daily by mouth for 3 to 6 months. Your healthcare provider will decide the best types of medicines and schedule for you.

Your treatment plan will depend on:

  • How much hepatitis C virus is in your body

  • Your hepatitis C genotype

  • How much liver damage you have

  • If you have any thyroid or kidney problems

  • If you were treated for hepatitis C in the past, and with what medicines

  • If you had a liver transplant

  • What medicines you take, including supplements and over-the-counter medicines

  • What other health conditions you have

During treatment, you’ll have visits with your healthcare provider every few weeks or months. You’ll have blood tests to check the amount of virus your body. You’ll also have blood tests to see how well your liver is working. The medicine will likely help your liver work better. Make sure to tell your healthcare provider about any side effects you have from the medicines.

Side Effects

Hepatitis C antivirals have very mild or no side effects. Some of the side effects may be:

  • Nausea

  • Fatigue

  • Headache

  • Rash

  • Disturbed sleep (insomnia)

Some patients are prescribed Ribavirin. Ribavirin can have side effects that are more noticeable and more common. These side effects are reversible so they will stop when the ribavirin is stopped.

  • Drop in red blood cell count (anemia)

  • Cough

  • Shortness of breath

  • Chest pain

  • Rash

  • Birth defects (harm to embryo or fetus of pregnant patients)

After treatment

After treatment, you’ll have follow-up visits with your healthcare provider. You’ll have tests such as:

  • Blood tests. These are to see if the virus is being cleared from your body. You’ll also have tests to check how your liver is working.

  • Imaging tests. If you have liver scarring, you may a test every 6 to 12 months to check for signs of liver cancer. You may have an ultrasound, CT scan, or MRI test.

  • Upper endoscopy. This is done to look for swollen blood vessels in the stomach or esophagus. These can bleed and cause serious health problems.

In some cases, you may still have the virus in your blood after treatment. You may have another course of medicine in the future. Your healthcare provider will talk with you about your options.

Women and birth control

If you’re a woman who hasn’t gone through menopause, take special care in these cases:

  • Treatment with ribavirin. You’ll need to prevent pregnancy with at least 2 types of birth control during and 6 months after treatment.

  • Treatment with a protease inhibitor. Don’t use hormonal birth control during treatment. These medicines cause hormonal birth control to not work well. This includes birth control pills, injections, patches, implants, and hormone ring.

Protecting your health after treatment

It’s important to know that if you’re cured of hepatitis C, you’re not protected from being infected again. You can get the virus again through contact with blood from someone who has the virus. Talk with your healthcare provider about the best ways to protect yourself from another infection.

Following up

For best results, follow up with your healthcare provider during and after treatment. This may include:

  • Having blood tests during treatment to see how your body is responding.

  • Following your healthcare’s provider’s instructions.

  • Having blood tests after treatment ends to see if it was successful.

Author: StayWell Custom Communications
Last Annual Review Date: 5/15/2011
Copyright © The StayWell Company, LLC. except where otherwise noted.
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