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.
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Hepatitis C is a liver disease
that's caused by a virus.
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It can do serious damage to your
liver if it's left untreated.
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Hepatitis C can cause scarring called
cirrhosis, or even liver cancer.
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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
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cirrhosis which can be life threatening.
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In the past treating hepatitis C was
challenging because the medications had
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more side effects and
were much less effective.
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But more recent scientific advances
have changed the game completely.
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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%.
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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
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the medicines are pills,
some are just 1 pill a day.
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Many drugs used to treat hepatitis
can interact with other medications.
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So always tell your doctor about
all the medications you take,
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and herbal remedies.
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Whichever one you take, its absolutely
critical, you follow the directions.
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If you miss doses or
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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,
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your chances of being cured are high.
00:01:30,820 --> 00:01:33,170
3 to 6 months after you stop treatment for
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hepatitis C, you'll get another
blood test to see if you're cured.
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Being cured means the virus is
no longer in your body, and
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can no longer cause damage to the liver.
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And even if you have some liver damage
already, in many cases liver scarring can
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slowly improve over time after
you've been cleared of the virus.
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But remember that even if you're cured of
hepatitis C, you can catch it again if you
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come into contact with
the blood of someone infected.
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Hepatitis C FAQs for the public. Atlanta, GA: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (Accessed on January 1, 2021 at https://www.cdc.gov/hepatitis/hcv/cfaq.htm.)Patient education: hepatitis C (beyond the basics). Waltham, MA: UpToDate. (Accessed on January 1, 2021 at https://www.uptodate.com/contents/hepatitis-c-beyond-the-basics.)