The treatment options available for hepatitis C include different types of pills and, in rare cases, injections. Many treatment plans also include dietary changes, which are not rooted in directly impacting the hepatitis C virus but instead providing proper assistance to your body while it receives the treatment as well as while it works to heal the liver damage that hepatitis C often causes.
How do I know which to choose?
Your doctor will discuss the options with you. The best option for you will consider your specific genotype of the hepatitis C virus, your personal medical history, your insurance company’s coverage, and your ability to pay for any additional costs.
Before the doctor chooses a medical treatment protocol, you will likely be given a number of tests. These tests may begin with an initial hepatitis C exposure test. This test will show whether you have interacted with the hepatitis C virus. If you test positive, your doctor will do a secondary test to check whether your body is fighting the virus. In some cases, you may have been exposed to the virus but not currently infected. The body may have become infected but was able to rid itself of the virus without medical intervention. Your doctor wants to be sure your body actually has the virus and that it cannot fight the virus on its own before introducing medication.
If these tests are positive, the doctor will test your blood to find out what specific type or genotype of the virus you have. This is important because different genotypes require different medications. In addition, your doctor may run liver tests to find out if or how much your liver was impacted by the hepatitis C virus. These tests may include liver function tests (to see if the liver was damaged) and a liver biopsy (to find out how and how much the liver has been damaged). An imaging test may also be done to rule out any liver cancer, which may require treatment before or concurrently with hepatitis C treatment.
Once the doctors have discovered these details about the patient, they are better able to decide how to treat the patient. The most common treatment options include once a day pills, including the brand names for treatments specific to certain genotypes of the hepatitis C virus. These names and types include: Daklinza (type 3), Zepatier, (types 1, 4, 5, and 6), Technivie (type 4), Harvoni (types 1, 4, and 6), the Viekira Pak (Ombitasvir, paritaprevir, and ritonavir with dasabuvir) (type 1), Olysio (type 1), and Sovaldi (type 1).
Your doctor may also include treatment requirements that include additional medications to combat the side effects of these treatment drugs. The intention here is to make the treatment process as easy on the body and on the patient as possible. This may mean that there are side effects to the drugs taken to relieve or minimize treatment side effects. If this occurs, the patient and doctor may decide to alter the medical treatment using different drugs or doses, or they may decide to stop some of the medications.
What side effects are most common?
Headaches are the most commonly reported side effect of most of the hepatitis C medications. In addition, some people feel tired or sluggish and others experience stomach cramps, diarrhea, or other digestive issues. A patient may also find themselves having trouble sleeping. Cough, dry mouth, sore throat, dehydration, skin rashes, and changes in appetite may also occur.
What do I do if I am experiencing side effects?
If you are already prone to such medical struggles, your doctor may proactively recommend or prescribe additional medication in hopes of preventing the experience of some or all of these side effects. If not, your doctor will likely ask you to keep a written record of any symptoms or struggles. As you make these notes, it is often wise to note where on the body the side effect occurred, what specifically happened, and how long it took for the problem to resolve. The doctor may also ask you to keep records of your eating and drinking habits so that any connection between diet and side effects can be more easily recognized.
If you are experiencing side effects in your treatment process or if you fear this occurring when you begin your treatment protocol, you can discuss these concerns with your doctor. A patient should never alter their medical treatment without consulting their physician, as these changes need to be guided by a physician in order to best maintain the goal of treating hepatitis C.1-5
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"Initial Treatment Of HCV Infection | Recommendations For Testing, Managing, And Treating Hepatitis C". Hcvguidelines.org. N.p., 2016. Web. 24 May 2016.
Laflamme, MD, Mark R. "What Are The Side Effects Of Hepatitis C Treatment?". Healthline. N.p., 2016. Web. 24 May 2016.
"Treatment Side Effects Chart - Viral Hepatitis". Hepatitis.va.gov. N.p., 2016. Web. 24 May 2016.