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Hep C: Give Yourself the Best Chance of Being Cured

Hep C: Give Yourself the Best Chance of Being Cured

Follow these strategies to give yourself the best chance of success with hep C treatment.

If you have hepatitis C, it is important to seek treatment. Chronic infection with the hepatitis C virus causes inflammation in the liver, which can put a person at risk for a number of complications, including cirrhosis, liver cancer, and liver failure. Fortunately, there are effective treatments available for hep C, which can clear the viral infection from the body.

The preferred treatment is a class of drugs called direct-acting antivirals (DAAs). These medications work by disrupting the lifecycle of the hepatitis C virus, so that the virus will not be able to multiply or survive inside the liver. As the medications work, over time the amount of the virus in the body (called viral load) becomes lower and lower. Ideally, the virus will eventually reach undetectable levels. When levels are undetectable for at least 12 weeks after completing treatment, the body has cleared the virus and a person is considered cured.

If you are undergoing treatment for hep C, the following strategies can increase your chances of success with treatment.

Adhere to your treatment plan
The most important thing you can do to increase your chances of being cured of hep C is to take your medication as prescribed. Treatments become less effective when there are missed doses, and improper adherence can even lead to hep C becoming resistant to specific medications. This can be a challenge, because the duration of treatment is typically several months. Durations are typically 8 to 12 weeks, but may be as long as 24 weeks.

To have the best chance of success with hep C, you need a system in place to keep you on track with your medication and to minimize your risk of missing doses. Some popular strategies include:

  • Use a pill container labeled with the days of the week. Refill the container at the same day and time each week.
  • Set reminders. Set a daily alarm on your phone, watch, or other device to remind you to take your medication.
  • Keep your medication in a spot where it will be difficult to miss.
  • Set a backup reminder. Leave a note or a sticker in a spot that is hard to miss as a visual reminder.
  • Pay attention to when your medications need to be taken. Some need to be taken with food, some are recommended at certain times during the day, and some require more than one dose a day.
  • Keep a calendar, and check off the day once you’ve taken your medication.
  • Prepare for disruptions to your normal schedule, such as travel or social events, and plan ahead for how they will impact taking your medication.

Keep your appointments
You may need to see your healthcare provider several times during the duration of your treatment. These can include lab tests to monitor treatment progress, as well as tests to monitor for drug interactions. Your healthcare provider may also recommend vaccines, such as the flu shot, pneumonia vaccine, and vaccinations against other conditions that can affect the liver.

Address side effects
Some people being treated for hep C experience side effects from medications. These may include fatigue, insomnia, headaches, trouble eating, and gastrointestinal symptoms (like nausea and diarrhea), dry skin, and rashes. These symptoms can be uncomfortable, but they are typically not serious, and it is important to continue taking medication, even when side effects occur. If you experience side effects, talk to your healthcare provider—there may be steps to take to relieve side effects.

Maintain a healthy lifestyle
While not specifically related to treating hep C, taking steps to improve overall health can benefit your liver. Eating well, staying active, and getting adequate amounts of sleep are essentials of a healthy lifestyle, helping to control things like body weight and blood sugar, and promoting better immune system function. It is also important to avoid substances that damage your liver, such as alcohol and recreational drugs. Patients are also cautioned against taking nutritional supplements (unless approved by their healthcare provider)—some supplements may be harmful to the liver.

Medically reviewed in June 2019.

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