Just Diagnosed with Hepatitis C: 5 Steps to Take Next
After being diagnosed with hepatitis C, patients need credible medical information to get the care and treatment they need. While your doctor is the best person to ask about what to do next, here are 5 proactive steps that I took after my diagnosis.
Step 1: Learn about the liver and hepatitis C
Learn how the liver functions and how hepatitis C affects the liver using credible medical resources. Learn what harms the liver (such as alcohol, drugs, smoking), and learn what you can do to help your liver. Talk to your physician before taking any supplements or medications or making changes in your diet.
Step 2: Find a liver specialist
If you can, see a liver specialist (hepatologist or gastroenterologist). These physicians specialize in liver disease and are up to date on all hepatitis C treatments and clinical research involving the liver. Make a list of questions for your physician and prepare for your appointment.
Step 3: Understand your liver condition
Talk to your doctor about what liver tests you need and what they mean. Find out what hepatitis C genotype (virus strain) you have (there are 6 genotypes with subtypes). Talk to your doctor about tests you need to determine if you have liver damage. Inform your doctor about any medical conditions you have and all medications, vitamins, and supplements you take.
Step 4: Find treatment and support
Find out what hepatitis C treatment is best suited for you. Learn about the length of treatment, possible side effects, and what prescription and over-the-counter medications are safe to take for your liver condition. Work with your physician’s staff if you need a patient assistance program to help you with treatment if you don’t have medical insurance or need help with co-pays.
If you doctor recommends it, start treatment as soon as possible. The goal of treatment is to eliminate the hepatitis C virus and be cured. Early treatment, even when little to mild liver damage is present; The liver can regenerate healthy liver tissue and retain normal function, but the liver cannot regenerate from severe scarring (cirrhosis). Hepatitis C treatment does not cure cirrhosis.
Join a support group of others who understand what you’re going through. There are many online hepatitis C and liver disease support groups, as well as physical support groups. Ask your physician or healthcare team for recommendations in your area.
Step 5: Recover
After hepatitis C treatment, keep up with blood tests and appointments with your physician. Blood tests will be done between 4 to 12 weeks after you have completed treatment to determine if you achieved SVR (sustained virologic response), meaning the virus is non-detected in the blood and you are considered cured. If you experience any side effects from treatment while you’re in recovery, talk to your physician and ask what is best to do and take.
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