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Factors to Consider When Choosing a Hep C Treatment

Here’s what you and your healthcare provider need to consider when choosing a medication to treat hep C.

Direct-acting antiviral medications can cure chronic hep C infections in over 90 percent of cases.

Hepatitis C is a blood-borne virus that causes inflammation in the liver. In 60 to 80 percent of cases, hep C develops into a chronic infection, meaning that it does not resolve and requires treatment.

Left untreated, a chronic hep C infection can lead to serious long-term complications, including cirrhosis of the liver, liver cancer, and liver failure.

Although it can be a serious threat to a person’s health, most people with chronic hep C do not have noticeable symptoms, and a person can have hep C for years without knowing it.

The only way to know if you have hep C is to get tested. This involves a blood test performed by a healthcare provider. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends hep C screening for every person between 18 and 79 years old.

Fortunately, if a hep C screening comes back positive, the treatments available are very effective—and are able to cure hep C infections in over 90 percent of cases.

With hep C, a person is considered cured if there is no trace of the virus in their blood six months after finishing treatment.

Direct-acting antivirals

The preferred treatment for hep C is a class of drugs called direct-acting antivirals, or DAAs, which work by disrupting the lifecycle of the hep C virus and interfering with the virus’s ability to replicate.

There are several different types of DAAs that target the hep C virus in different ways. A treatment plan will often use a combination of several types of DAAs. This combination is referred to as a regimen.

DAAs are taken as oral medications. They are typically taken daily for a period of several months, though duration of treatment can vary.

Starting treatment

It is recommended that a person with hep C begin treatment as soon as possible.

There are a number of factors about your medical history and overall health that your healthcare provider will consider when choosing a regimen and deciding how to treat. These include:

  • If you have previously been treated for hep C, and what therapies were used during that treatment.
  • If you have had a liver transplant.
  • If you have a co-infection with another virus, such as HIV (human-immunodeficiency virus) or hepatitis B.
  • The genotype (strain) of the hep C virus. Some DAAs are more effective than others at treating different genotypes.
  • The health of your liver and the extent of liver damage.
  • Other illnesses, such as kidney disease or a health condition that causes anemia.
  • What medications you take, including prescriptions, over-the-counter medications, supplements, and herbal remedies. These may interact with hep C therapies and some may cause damage to the liver.
  • If you are pregnant. Treatment should be delayed if you are pregnant. The potential side effects of antiviral therapy during pregnancy are unknown.

Adhering to treatment

In order to have the best chance of being cured of hep C, you need to follow a treatment plan exactly as it is prescribed.

Skipping doses or stopping treatment early can make DAAs less effective and may cause the virus to become resistant to those medications.

Your healthcare provider may also discuss other ways to protect your liver and your overall health, including changes to diet, seeking treatment for substance abuse, and staying up to date on your vaccinations.

Article sources open article sources

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Viral Hepatitis."
MedlinePlus. "Hepatitis C."
UpToDate. "Patient education: Hepatitis C (Beyond the Basics)."
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Hepatitis C Questions and Answers for the Public."
National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. "Hepatitis C."
Lab Tests Online. "Hepatitis C Testing."
U.S. Preventive Services Task Force. "Hepatitis C Virus Infection in Adolescents and Adults: Screening."
Kathleen Davis. "Everything you need to know about hepatitis C." MedicalNewsToday. May 14, 2020.
UpToDate. "Direct-acting antivirals for the treatment of hepatitis C virus infection."
American Liver Foundation. "Treating Hepatitis C."
World Health Organization. "Hepatitis C."

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