Starting treatment can prevent further damage to the liver.
Hepatitis C is a tricky one. Because the virus does not often present symptoms, most hepatitis C infections progress to the chronic stage where, over years or decades, they can cause serious liver damage, including cirrhosis or even liver cancer. Luckily, newer treatments for hepatitis C can cure the virus and heal your liver.
Older medications for hepatitis C had a lower cure rate and had more significant side effects. Now, newer classes of drugs have had a breakthrough impact. These medications come in pill form, some of which only need to be taken once a day. Treatment usually lasts three to six months, and they can have a cure rate of 95 percent. Your exact treatment regimen depends on what strain of the hepatitis C virus you have.
While these medications have proven to be effective at treating hepatitis C, it is crucial to follow instructions from your doctor.
“If you miss doses or don’t take all of the medication, it won’t work as well as it should,” says internist Paul Knoepflmacher, MD, a clinical instructor of medicine at The Mount Sinai Hospital. “Even worse, the virus can become ‘resistant,’ which means the medication might not be able to cure the virus.”
Also key: Let your doctor know about any other medications you may be taking before you start hep C treatment. Many drugs that treat hepatitis C may interact negatively with other medications, including innocent-sounding supplements and herbal remedies. For example, some medications may cause complications when combined with medications for HIV, a common comorbidity of hepatitis C. (Here’s more information about the link between HIV and hepatitis C.)
Three to six months after you stop treatment for hepatitis C, you’ll need to do another blood test to see if you’re cured, which means the virus is no longer in your body or able to cause liver damage.
As for the damage that may have already occurred? Luckily, the body is always working to repair itself, so damage like liver scarring (known as cirrhosis) often slowly improves over time.
If you have not been tested for hepatitis C and have one or more of the risk factors, particularly if you are a baby boomer (born between 1945 and 1965), talk to your doctor about learning your hepatitis C status. Learn more about testing for hepatitis C here.
Dr. Knoepflmacher is a clinical instructor of medicine at The Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, where he also maintains a private practice.
00:00:00,000 --> 00:00:02,205
00:00:02,205 --> 00:00:05,552
Hepatitis C is a liver disease
that's caused by a virus.
00:00:05,552 --> 00:00:08,794
It can do serious damage to your
liver if it's left untreated.
00:00:08,794 --> 00:00:14,604
00:00:14,604 --> 00:00:19,460
Hepatitis C can cause scarring called
cirrhosis, or even liver cancer.
00:00:19,460 --> 00:00:24,380
But if you can identify and treat
hepatitis C before the cirrhosis starts,
00:00:24,380 --> 00:00:25,370
or gets worse.
00:00:25,370 --> 00:00:28,420
You can prevent these
complications like liver failure or
00:00:28,420 --> 00:00:30,790
cirrhosis which can be life threatening.
00:00:30,790 --> 00:00:34,735
In the past treating hepatitis C was
challenging because the medications had
00:00:34,735 --> 00:00:37,065
more side effects and
were much less effective.
00:00:37,065 --> 00:00:40,775
But more recent scientific advances
have changed the game completely.
00:00:40,775 --> 00:00:44,355
In the vast majority of people these
medications have an excellent chance of
00:00:44,355 --> 00:00:45,535
curing the infection.
00:00:45,535 --> 00:00:48,487
We're not seeing cure rates around 95%.
00:00:48,487 --> 00:00:51,898
Your treatment regimen depends on
what type of hepatitis C you have.
00:00:51,898 --> 00:00:55,090
Different medicines treat
different strains of hepatitis C.
00:00:55,090 --> 00:00:58,400
Treatment typically lasts
from 3 to 6 months, and
00:00:58,400 --> 00:01:01,520
the medicines are pills,
some are just 1 pill a day.
00:01:01,520 --> 00:01:05,490
Many drugs used to treat hepatitis
can interact with other medications.
00:01:05,490 --> 00:01:08,740
So always tell your doctor about
all the medications you take,
00:01:08,740 --> 00:01:11,060
and herbal remedies.
00:01:11,060 --> 00:01:15,400
Whichever one you take, its absolutely
critical, you follow the directions.
00:01:15,400 --> 00:01:16,980
If you miss doses or
00:01:16,980 --> 00:01:20,590
don't take all the medications,
it won't work as well as it should.
00:01:20,590 --> 00:01:23,030
And even worse the virus
can become resistant,
00:01:23,030 --> 00:01:26,250
which means the medication might
not be able to cure the virus.
00:01:26,250 --> 00:01:29,030
If you take your medication
as exactly as directed,
00:01:29,030 --> 00:01:30,820
your chances of being cured are high.
00:01:30,820 --> 00:01:33,170
3 to 6 months after you stop treatment for
00:01:33,170 --> 00:01:36,890
hepatitis C, you'll get another
blood test to see if you're cured.
00:01:36,890 --> 00:01:39,860
Being cured means the virus is
no longer in your body, and
00:01:39,860 --> 00:01:41,810
can no longer cause damage to the liver.
00:01:41,810 --> 00:01:45,600
And even if you have some liver damage
already, in many cases liver scarring can
00:01:45,600 --> 00:01:48,750
slowly improve over time after
you've been cleared of the virus.
00:01:48,750 --> 00:01:52,922
But remember that even if you're cured of
hepatitis C, you can catch it again if you
00:01:52,922 --> 00:01:55,679
come into contact with
the blood of someone infected.
00:01:55,679 --> 00:02:00,148
Hepatitis C FAQs for the public. Atlanta, GA: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2016. (Accessed on November 30, 2017 at https://www.cdc.gov/hepatitis/hcv/cfaq.htm.)
Patient education: hepatitis C (beyond the basics). Waltham, MA: UpToDate. (Accessed on November 30, 2017 at https://www.uptodate.com/contents/hepatitis-c-beyond-the-basics.)