Hepatitis C (cont.)
IN THIS ARTICLE
You may or may not receive treatment for hepatitis C, depending on:
Treatment isn't always an option, because the medicines used to treat hepatitis C have serious side effects, are expensive, and don't work for everyone.
Being diagnosed with hepatitis C can change your life. You may need help and support to cope with the illness. For more information, see Home Treatment.
Treatment of short-term (acute) hepatitis C
Most people who have acute hepatitis C don't get treated, because they don't know that they have the virus.
If a person knows that he or she may have been exposed to the virus—such as a health care worker who is stuck by a needle—acute hepatitis C can be found early. Most people who are known to have an acute hepatitis C infection get treated with medicine. In these cases, treatment may help prevent long-term (chronic) infection, although there is still some debate over when to begin treatment and how long to treat acute hepatitis C.3
Treatment of long-term (chronic) hepatitis C
It is common for people to live with hepatitis C for years without knowing they have it, because they do not have symptoms. So most people diagnosed with hepatitis C find out that they already have long-term, chronic infection.
If your blood tests and liver biopsy show that you have chronic infection but no damage to your liver, you may not need treatment. If you do have some liver damage, you may be treated with a combination of medicines that fight the viral infection.
Whether or not you take medicines to treat hepatitis C, you will need to have routine blood tests to help your doctor know how well your liver is working.
If you decide not to be treated with medicines, your doctor will want to watch you closely and may want to do a liver biopsy every 4 or 5 years to check for damage in your liver.
Some people who at first decide not to have treatment later decide they want to have it.
The medicines usually used to treat hepatitis C are interferons combined with ribavirin plus a protease inhibitor such as boceprevir (Victrelis) or telaprevir (Incivek). They are used for 6 months to a year and help your body get rid of the virus.
Your doctor can help you decide whether medicines are right for you.
Treatment of relapse or nonresponse
Sometimes you can take different medicine if your first round of treatment didn't work very well. The decision to try treatment again is based on several things including how well you tolerated the first treatment and how well the first round of treatment worked. Talk to your doctor about whether you might try medicines again.
Treatment if the condition gets worse
Severe liver damage caused by chronic hepatitis C usually takes 20 or more years to develop.
If your hepatitis C continues to get worse, it can cause your liver to stop working, a condition called end-stage liver failure. In this case, a liver transplant may be the only way to extend your life. But if you are drinking alcohol, are sharing needles to inject drugs, or have severe depression or certain other mental illnesses, liver transplant may not be an option.
Most people with chronic hepatitis C will not die from the disease. But 1 to 5 out of 100 people with severe liver damage from chronic hepatitis C will die because of the virus.4 Even if a liver transplant is done as a last possible treatment, there can be complications that lead to death. For more information about decisions to help prepare for death and dying, see the topic Care at the End of Life.
What to think about
Researchers are working to develop other treatments, including gene therapy and medicines that help control the immune system.
eMedicineHealth Medical Reference from Healthwise
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- Hep C: Preparing for Treatment Success
- What Hep C Treatment Looks Like
- When to Begin Hep C Treatment