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Why Early Treatment for Hep C is Important

If you have hepatitis C, here’s why you should seek treatment from a healthcare provider as soon as possible.

Medically reviewed in May 2021

If you’ve arrived here, you probably know the basics of hep C—it’s a viral infection with the hepatitis C virus (HCV) that causes inflammation in the liver. The majority of hep C infections are chronic, meaning they are long term and will not resolve on their own.

But there are treatments that can cure chronic hep C infections. Treatment for hep C involves taking medications called direct-acting antivirals (DAAs). These medications are taken every day for a period of months—the exact duration of treatment depends on numerous factors, including the specific medications being used, the genotype of the virus, and a person’s overall health.

DAAs are very effective. The goal of treatment is called a “sustained virologic response” (SVR). This means that hep C cannot be detected in the blood and the infection is essentially cured. With proper adherence, these medications cure roughly 95 percent of infections.

If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with hep C, you may be wondering how urgent it is to get treatment. You may have heard that hep C treatment is expensive, that the medications cause side effects, that starting treatment involves working with insurance providers, paperwork, follow-up appointments with healthcare providers, and requirements that vary by state and insurance policy.

And once you start treatment, you need to adhere to your medication schedule as perfectly as possible. This means taking every single dose as directed. Missing doses and discontinuing treatment partway through can cause the infection to become resistant to treatment, making it more difficult to cure.

Life is already full of obligations, work, and commitments, it can be difficult to imagine taking on more. But while treating hep C is a commitment, anyone with hep C should seriously consider seeking treatment And seeking treatment sooner than later can make a difference to the future of your health.

An invisible disease
One reason that many people with hep C may not see any urgency to get treatment is the fact that chronic hep C infections rarely cause any symptoms. This is why hepatitis C is sometimes called an invisible disease.

However, despite the lack of symptoms, the infection is damaging the liver.

As HCV spreads to healthy liver cells, the immune system responds. Because the immune system cannot fully clear the virus (at least in the case of chronic hep C infections), this puts the liver in a state of continuous inflammation. Liver cells are damaged and destroyed, and healthy cells are replaced with scar tissue (a process called fibrosis).

The longer a person delays treatment, the more the damage will progress. Research has shown that delaying treatment lowers the effectiveness of medications and can lead to worse outcomes, such as cirrhosis (severe scarring in the liver), liver cancer, and liver failure—a condition that requires a liver transplant. People with hep C who delay treatment are also more likely to die from complications related to hep C.

Making the decision
If you have hep C, the best thing you can do is discuss treatment with a healthcare provider. While it is best to seek treatment as soon as possible, everyone’s health is different, and there are other areas of your health that need to be considered when starting hep C treatment. These include:

  • The health of your liver
  • The genotype of HCV
  • If you have had a liver transplant
  • Other illnesses, such as HIV or kidney disease
  • If you are pregnant or breastfeeding

Remember, everyone’s health is different and hep C is a different experience for everyone. When it comes to making a decision about hep C treatment, there is no substitute for working with a healthcare provider who has training and experience in treating hep C.

Medically reviewed in May 2021.

Sources:
American Academy of Family Physicians. "Patient Education: Hepatitis C."
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Hepatitis C Questions and Answers for the Public."
Medical News Today. "Everything you need to know about hepatitis C."
Cleveland Clinic. "Hepatitis C."
U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. "Hepatitis C medications: An overview for patients."
U.S. Food & Drug Administration. "Hepatitis C Treatments Give Patients More Options."
Medical News Today. "How much does hepatitis C treatment cost?"
Mayo Clinic. "Coping with side effects of hepatitis C drugs."
Marjan Javanbakht, Roxanne Archer, and Jeffrey Klausner. "Will prior health insurance authorization for medications continue to hinder hepatitis C treatment delivery in the United States? Perspectives from hepatitis C treatment providers in a large urban healthcare system." PLOS ONE, 2020.
Nick Voyles. "We can’t eliminate hepatitis C without removing barriers to treatment." Stat. Nov. 14, 2020.
stateofhepc.com. "See How Your State Matches Up."
Jorge Mera, Brigg Reilley, Jessica Leston, and David Stephens. "In a Critical State: Ongoing Barriers to Treatment for Hepatitis C Virus (HCV)." The American Journal of Medicine, 2018.
UpToDate. "Patient education: Hepatitis C (Beyond the Basics)."
Elsevier Point of Care. "Clinical Overview: Hepatitis C."
The Hepatitis C Trust. "How hepatitis C damages the liver."
Paula P. Cox-North. "Evaluation and Staging of Liver Fibrosis." Hepatitis C Online. April 19, 2021.
Liz Highleyman. "Another study confirms detrimental effects of delaying hepatitis C treatment." NAM aidsmap. May 5, 2015.
American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases. "When and in Whom to Initiate HCV Therapy."
Maria A. Corcorran. "Making a Decision on When to Initiate HCV Therapy." Hepatitis C Online. April 19, 2021.

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