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What to Expect After Being Diagnosed with Hep C

Learn about the process of diagnosing and treating hepatitis C, and why early treatment is recommended.

Medically reviewed in July 2022

Hepatitis C, or hep C, is a viral infection that causes inflammation in the liver. A percentage of hep C infections are acute—short-term infections that resolve on their own. The majority of hep C infections are chronic, meaning the infection does not resolve on its own and will last for the rest of a person’s life unless they get treatment. Untreated chronic hep C can lead to cirrhosis of the liver, liver failure, and liver cancer.

Fortunately, most chronic hep C infections can be cured. If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with hep C, keep reading to learn what comes next.

Getting a diagnosis
The first step to getting treatment for hep C is to be screened for hep C. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends that all individuals between the ages of 18 and 79 get screened for hepatitis C.

An initial diagnosis typically involves two blood tests—a test to screen for the presence of hep C and a test to confirm that the infection is active. An active infection will require treatment.

In addition to blood work, your healthcare provider may also perform a physical exam and ask questions about your medical history. Most cases of chronic hep C are asymptomatic, meaning they do not cause any noticeable symptoms. However, your HCP may ask if you are experiencing:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Fatigue
  • Stomach pain
  • Jaundice (yellowing of the skin)
  • Muscle and joint pain
  • Dark colored urine
  • Light colored stool
  • Swollen abdomen
  • Swollen ankles and legs
  • Muscle atrophy

Your healthcare provider will likely order additional tests to assess the health of your liver, your spleen, and your kidneys, and to check for other conditions and infections. These may include blood tests and imaging tests.

Based on your medical history, your healthcare provider may have other recommendations in addition to hep C treatment. For example, getting vaccinated against hepatitis A and hepatitis B—other infections that can harm the health of the liver.

Treatment decisions
Hepatitis C is a different experience for everyone, and your best source of information will be a healthcare provider with experience treating chronic hep C infections.

Treatment for hepatitis C involves taking medications called direct-acting antivirals (DAAs). These medications stop the virus from reproducing and allow the body to clear the infection.

Once treatment has started, a person will need to take DAA medications every day until treatment is complete. Treatment typically lasts several months, with the exact timing depending on a number of different factors, such as the medication being used, the extent of liver damage, the genotype of the virus, and a person’s medical history (including any prior hep C treatments).

Taking DAA medications inconsistently or discontinuing medications before treatment is complete can cause a hep C infection to become resistant to medications, making it more difficult to cure. A person is considered cured when the HCV is not detected in a blood test 3 to 6 months after treatment ends. However, liver problems may require ongoing treatment, and people who have been treated for hep C should discuss their risk of reinfection—and how to prevent reinfection—with a healthcare provider.

Taking care of yourself
Being diagnosed with hep C can be surprising and overwhelming. But it’s also an opportunity to improve your health. In addition to working with a healthcare provider and sticking with your treatment plan, there are other steps you should take during treatment that can have a positive impact on your health. These include:

  • Don’t drink alcohol. Alcohol can damage the liver and accelerate the damage caused by a hep C infection.
  • Abstain from recreational drugs. If you have a substance use disorder, tell you healthcare provider.
  • If you smoke, quit. Smoking damages the liver and increases the risk of other life-threatening health conditions, including cardiovascular disease and many types of cancer.
  • Practice safe sex and take other precautions that reduce your risk of transmitting hep C to others.
  • Eat a healthy diet and stay active. Also make sure to get plenty of rest and sleep.

These are all topics you can discuss with your healthcare providers. You may also consider working with a mental health practitioner and participating in a support group. Support groups offer a chance to connect with other people who are living with hepatitis C or liver disease, and can be a great source of information, emotional support, and encouragement when treating hepatitis C.

Medically reviewed in May 2021.

Sources:
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Hepatitis C."
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Hepatitis C Questions and Answers for the Public."
Elsevier Point of Care. "Clinical Overview: Hepatitis C."
Mayo Clinic. "Hepatitis C."
UpToDate. "Patient education: Hepatitis C (Beyond the Basics)."
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Testing Recommendations for Hepatitis C Virus Infection."
Elsevier Patient Education. "Hepatitis C."
Pacific Hepatitis C Network. "DAA Types."
Medical News Today. "Everything you need to know about hepatitis C."
U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. "Hepatitis C & Tobacco Use."
Center for Substance Abuse Treatment. "Addressing Viral Hepatitis in People With Substance Use Disorders." Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (US), 2011.
Hepatitis Central. "Hepatitis C Support Groups."

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