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Living with Hep C Fatigue

Why hep C causes fatigue and what you can do about it.

Living with Hep C Fatigue

Hepatitis C is just one in a family of viruses that invades the liver, leading to complications such as inflammation, cirrhosis and, in some cases, liver failure or cancer. Known for its slow, nearly silent progression, the virus can go undetected for years before symptoms start to surface. And the most common—and usually most troubling—of those is fatigue.

Many reasons for hep C fatigue
A number of factors contribute to hep C’s debilitating fatigue. Though research is conflicting, some experts believe that the virus itself brings on fatigue. In the early, acute stage of the illness, some people have flu-like symptoms caused by the attack on the liver and the body’s response to the virus. Many people have no symptoms for many years after that, yet up to half experience extreme tiredness at times. Researchers aren’t yet certain why.

Another possibility is psychological: People may become depressed when they learn they have a serious, chronic illness. That stress and sadness could contribute to the overall feeling of weakness and exhaustion. Drug or alcohol abuse, both common among people with hep C, could also play a part.

Without treatment, the infection eventually also causes cirrhosis (scarring) of the liver, and fatigue is a common struggle for people with cirrhosis. Also, interferon, until recently the best medication available for most people with hep C, is notorious for causing crippling fatigue and other severe side effects.

Try these energy boosters
Whatever the cause of your fatigue, there many lifestyle fixes you can make right now to lessen its impact and get back on your feet.

  • Maintain a healthy weight. If you have hepatitis C and suffer severe tiredness, it’s important to keep your weight in check. Obesity contributes to fatigue and the best way to combat it is with daily exercise. It may sound counter-intuitive to get moving when you’re tired, but exercising actually boosts energy levels, as well as contributes to your overall wellbeing. If strenuous cardio isn’t an option, try walking. Experts found that patients with hepatitis C who walked 10,000 steps three days a week greatly improved their energy levels.
  • Avoid alcohol. Not only does alcohol cause further damage to your liver cells, imbibing also makes you feel more tired and contributes to feelings of depression. Other bad habits like smoking can also leave you feeling drained, so consider tossing the pack for good.
  • Eat small, nutritious meals throughout the day. Eating small, healthy meals throughout the day gives your body constant fuel and keeps your metabolism up and running. This can help bring you back from an energy slump. Aim for fruits, veggies, whole grains and other energy-boosting foods, while avoiding fatty, processed ones that can leave you feeling even more sluggish and worn out. You can also add these foods to your diet to help improve liver health.
  • Listen to your body. Some days are going to be easier than others. Don’t overdo it. If you feel like you need to rest, don’t overload your day with a busy schedule. Conserve energy by completing certain tasks sitting down. While you’re receiving treatment, focus on your health and avoid taking on any new stresses. And, most importantly, listen to what your body’s telling you. Give yourself downtime and rest when you need it, as getting enough sleep is another key part of managing hep C.

Medically reviewed in October 2018.

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