Mental Health, Brain Fog, and Hepatitis C
Last updated: October 2020
Hepatitis C can impact the mental health of those infected; In fact, a chemical effect on the body can cause mode swings and other neurological symptoms including anxiety, hopelessness and helplessness, lack of interest, depression, and anger.1
Studies show a connection between hepatitis C and mental health challenges
Many of those coping with the diagnosis of hep C also develop psychological challenges. As noted in a recent research paper, “Around 50% HCV infection patients complain of neuropsychiatric symptoms, brain fog (difficulty thinking clearly, concentrating and expressing words), fatigue, and also show quality of life impairment up to some extent, regardless liver disease severity."2 According to another study, verbal learning impairment and lack of attention are also possible.3
Hepatitis C (like HIV) is somewhat unique because injection drug use is one of the most common ways that hep C is contracted and spread. Many people in this group have struggled with addiction, and addiction itself is associated with mental health challenges. Thus, many people with hep C also have pre-existing mental health issues, which can be exasperated by a hepatitis C diagnosis.
Personally I didn’t experience brain fog, lack of interest, hopelessness of most of the other mental health outcomes. I do remember an elevated state of anxiety concerning my hep C getting worse, the long-term effects, and how to notify loved ones that I had contracted it.
For me, stigma was the greatest cause of the anxiety. I was concerned that work colleagues, close friends, or professional clients might find out my status and judge me for it. Because my doctor was positive about the DAA’s being developed, my genotype was slow progressing and treatable, no symptoms were evident, and I had a strong support network, it's possible I suffered less mental health impacts than those other under different conditions might experience.
My advice for people struggling with hep C
For those feeling psychological symptoms as they struggle with hep C, it’s important to understand that the direct-acting antivirals (DAA) treatments of today are 90% effective for almost all genotypes of the disease, thus the sooner you are diagnosed and treated, the quicker hep C can be eradicated and mental health challenges alleviated. DAA’s have fewer mental health side effects than the drug treatments used prior to DAA’s. The recent DAA treatments are “simple, tolerable, and highly efficacious therapies".4
For those in need of support or who have concerns and questions, support groups such as HepatitisC.net can be easily accessed online. Healthcare providers also typically provide mental health counseling for those recently diagnosed and/or currently undergoing Hep C treatments.
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