Phases of Hepatitis C
When I was going through my journey with hepatitis C, I learned hepatitis C had four phases, which helped me as I moved through each phase.
The first phase lays the foundation on where you are with hepatitis C and determines what proactive steps you need to take.
Testing is part of the first phase of hepatitis C, which typically includes three tests. The first test for hepatitis C is to check for antibodies to see if you have had exposure to the hep C virus. The second test is for viral load, to see if you have the presence of the virus and viral load count. The third test is for genotype, to determine what virus strain of hepatitis C you have. There are 6 genotypes with numerous subtypes.
Being seen by a liver specialist like a hepatologist, gastroenterologist, or infectious disease specialist is highly recommended; These doctors specialize in liver disease and can help you best with treatment and care of your liver.
Numerous tests may be necessary to determine the condition of your liver and if any liver damage exists. These tests may include blood work, ultrasound, Fibroscan, or MRI. This will help determine which hepatitis C treatment is best suited for your liver condition.
The second phase consists of two parts, preparing for hepatitis C treatment and treatment itself. Standard treatment length is 8 to 12 weeks for the majority of patients. Improved treatment with direct-acting antivirals are oral pills taken daily. Being monitored throughout treatment with blood work and physical exams with your doctor are common during treatment.
Once you have completed treatment for hepatitis C you begin recovery. During recovery (post-treatment), blood work and physical exams with your doctor are normally done at 12 weeks after treatment is completed.
Recovery is time for your body and liver to rebuild and heal from the virus and treatment.
A viral load test is done at 12 weeks post-treatment to determine if any hepatitis C virus is detected in your blood. If your test shows non-detected, you are considered cured of hepatitis C. It is important to note, treatment for hepatitis C has a high cure rate for the virus, but does not cure cirrhosis (severe scarring).
If you have cirrhosis, you will need to continue to be monitored regularly by your liver specialist. If medications are necessary to help you with cirrhosis symptoms, do not alter or stop taking these medications once you complete hepatitis C treatment unless your doctor advises.
Regular testing with ultrasounds, blood work, and other tests may be necessary to help determine if you develop cysts, tumors, or liver cancer. Some patients later require a liver transplant. If you have a liver transplant, you will be required to take anti-rejection medications and will need to continue check-ups with your liver specialist.
Each phase of hepatitis C is important. Be patient in the process with each phase. Most importantly, take care of yourself and be proactive. There is great hope for you to get beyond hepatitis C.