What Kind of Doctor to See for Hepatitis C
Who can test me for Hepatitis C?
If you believe you may have been exposed to hepatitis C, you will want to be tested. This initial test can occur at most physicians’ offices, as well as in emergency rooms, urgent care centers, wellness centers, or clinics.
The first test will check to see if your body has been exposed to the hepatitis C virus. It tests for antibodies, which the body makes when it is fighting a specific kind of risk – in this case, hepatitis C. If you have tested positive for this at a general clinic or wellness center, you may be referred to your primary care physician or you may have the secondary test completed, depending on the facility.
The secondary test will check to see if your body actually has hepatitis C in its blood. In some cases, people are exposed to the virus and never contract it. In others, they contract the virus but their bodies are able to fight it off without medical assistance. Your health provider is testing to see whether either of those are the case for you or if the virus is present and active in your body. If this test is positive, you will likely be referred to a specialist for further testing and for treatment.
I tested positive for hepatitis C; now who do I see?
Often, when the tests are positive, the person completing the tests is someone who is more generally trained. When you test positive, they will want to refer you to a specialist in order to complete the additional testing and to begin treatment. Typically, the referral is either for a gastroenterologist or for a hepatologist.
A gastroenterologist specializes in the body’s digestive system and its processes, which include the liver, intestines, gallbladder, and pancreas. Hepatologists are considered to be a sub-specialty within the gastroenterology world, and are people who focus on the gallbladder, biliary tree, liver, and pancreas. Although some recommend one over the other, many in the medical world believe that both gastroenterologists and hepatologists are equally skilled and able to treat patients with hepatitis C.
Do I only need one doctor for treating my hepatitis C? If not, who else should I include in my treatment?
This depends on your individual body and your treatment plan and experience. This is because medical histories and the occurrence of medication side effects can vary widely between patients, as can how strictly the patient follows the treatment plan. One of the first tests after the bloodwork has been completed is to test the liver to see if or how much the hepatitis C virus has damaged it. If the liver has been damaged, in some cases, the patient may see an additional doctor during the process for testing the liver the first time, as well as for additional tests throughout the treatment process. In other cases, their gastroenterologist or hepatologist may perform the liver tests personally.
Patients who experience medication side effects may see other doctors, based on the side effects, including a dermatologist if there are skin issues, an ear/nose/throat doctor if there are concerns regarding sore throats or dry mouth, and/or a mental health professional if there are concerns regarding the patient’s mental health due to the medication or due to the processing of receiving a hepatitis C diagnosis.
When undertaking the treatment plan for hepatitis C, there may be other professionals included in the execution of the plan. For most patients, these professionals will likely include your pharmacist (who will help to answer medication questions or whether your daily vitamins or other medications may interact with your treatment protocol) and a dietician (who can help you to alter your diet to best provide liver support and healthy eating throughout the treatment process).
How do I juggle so many doctors?
In most cases, the doctors involved in your treatment plan are aware of each other and are working together on your treatment needs. For them to do this, they may require you to complete some paperwork, which will include sharing the information of each doctor and providing permission to each doctor to talk with the others who are treating you. If you are seeing multiple doctors at the same facility, you may not need to sign such paperwork because the initial paperwork may include giving permission for doctors in different departments at the same facility to speak with each other regarding your medical care.
That said, it is generally recommended that patients also keep track of their own medical records as much as possible. This may include anything from notating dates and times of doctors’ appointments, lists of medications, any side effects you may experience, and what the doctor suggested when you reported them, and any other notes, advice, or test results that the doctor provides to you. This allows the patient to be an active participant in their treatment. If you are creating or maintaining your own set of records and are uncertain what to include, you can always check with your doctor(s) for advice or guidance.
- Cutler, L.Ac., Nicole. "Should You See A Specialist For Hepatitis C?". Hepatitiscentral.com. N.p., 2008. Web. 24 May 2016.
- "HCV Faqs For Health Professionals | Division Of Viral Hepatitis | CDC". Cdc.gov. N.p., 2016. Web. 24 May 2016.
- "Learn About Hepatitis C (Hep C)". HepC.com. N.p., 2016. Web. 24 May 2016.
- "Who Treats Hepatitis C | Support | American Liver Foundation". Hepc.liverfoundation.org. N.p., 2016. Web. 24 May 2016.