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In this section, you or a loved one can find out more about medical treatments, research studies and practical information about hepatitis C. Read on to find answers to some of your questions as well as links to other information. Being informed is an important first step towards becoming an active decision-maker in your care plan.
Hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver – an infectious health condition caused by several types of hepatitis viruses. If a hepatitis C infection is not cleared by the immune system within months after acquiring it, it becomes ‘chronic’, causing inflammation and scarring/cirrhosis, making it harder for the liver to do its job – fighting infection, aiding digestion and filtering toxins from the blood.
Over time, people with hepatitis C virus (HCV) can become very sick and some may eventually need a liver transplant.
However, most people with chronic hepatitis C live very long periods with few to no symptoms. In fact, often only routine medical tests show liver damage – sometimes decades after the initial hepatitis C infection.
Hepatitis C is spread by HCV-infected blood getting into the bloodstream of another person (blood-to-blood contact). This usually happens through punctures of the skin or scrapes and tears in the delicate tissue lining the nose and mouth.
Hepatitis C virus cannot be transmitted through regular daily interactions. You cannot get hepatitis C from:
The liver is the largest organ in the body and the one most affected by chronic hepatitis C infection. This hard-working organ – roughly the size of a football – rests mainly in the upper abdomen, just to the right of the stomach. It serves as an important processing centre for the entire body.
As blood passes through it, many toxins like ammonia and alcohol are filtered out so they can't damage the body or damage it less than if a larger amount of toxin went into full blood circulation. The liver also manufactures important substances such as bile so food can be digested and absorbed. Last but not least, it stores beneficial substances like vitamins and glucose for later use.
For most people, regardless of having hepatitis C or not, exercise, healthy eating and good sleeping habits are recommended. A healthy lifestyle can lead to an enhanced quality of life for most people. Talk to your doctor before making any lifestyle changes.
There are drug treatments that may get rid of HCV, but they are not for everyone. Assessing the progression of liver disease is critical in first evaluating if a patient will need drug treatment or whether a ‘watch and wait’ approach is better.
The decision to treat with drugs and the drug treatment timing are dependent on a number of factors, such as:
Drug treatment is also not always an option as the medications available have serious side effects and do not work for everyone. The only ‘absolute contraindication’ (meaning, never, without exception) to HCV drug therapy treatment is pregnancy.
Doctors specialising in hepatitis C generally do not treat it with drugs unless it becomes chronic. Drug treatment is considered for patients with elevated alanine aminotransferase (ALT) liver enzyme levels (1.5 times the upper-normal limit) for a minimum of 3 months and confirmation from a biopsy that there is inflammation or fibrosis present in the liver, along with other considerations. If your doctor recommends no treatment, you should be monitored for liver problems with follow-up blood tests.
Hepatitis C infection is treated with antiviral drugs intended to clear the virus from your body. Your doctor may recommend a combination of antiviral drugs to be taken over several weeks.
Two antiviral therapies are currently used to treat people with chronic hepatitis C: dual therapy and triple therapy.
Some people may need to change their treatment or take a lower strength of medication. Patient blood tests are monitored throughout the drug treatment to detect side effects you would not be able to feel or see.
At regular follow-up visits after treatment, a liver specialist will check your liver enzyme levels to see whether the virus is still present. If the virus is still present, some patients may be advised to continue antiviral drug treatment, because it may reduce liver inflammation, slow the progression of liver damage or make liver cancer less likely. For those with cirrhosis, antiviral drug therapy may help them live longer.
When you are living with a chronic disease like hepatitis C, it is normal to want to explore any treatment options to relieve your symptoms and improve your quality of life. Standard hepatitis C treatment has come a long way towards curing the disease. However, the drug treatments do not always work and they can have side effects, so some patients with hepatitis C look into complementary and alternative therapies as well. There is limited research on these therapies – no study so far has proven any alternative remedy to be both safe and effective for treating the condition as a whole (i.e. bringing about disease remission). It is difficult to draw any conclusions from the research because studies on alternative remedies are typically not as rigorous or numerous as those used to test medications.
If you want to try an alternative therapy, talk to your doctor first to make sure it would be safe for you, considering the complexities of your particular medical condition.
Review all your medications with your doctor, including any over-the-counter products you take, and pain relief medication. Depending on the degree of liver damage, your medications or their doses may need to be adjusted.
The single most important substance to avoid is alcohol. Try hard to eliminate or radically minimise your alcohol consumption. It is a very attainable lifestyle change if you make it a personal goal and give yourself a timeline. As alcohol is so ubiquitous in many social situations, make sure that you let friends and family know that you are serious and determined to change your habits.
You must also avoid or limit your exposure to toxic liquids and fumes like solvents (e.g. paint thinner), chemical household cleansers, and gardening pesticides and herbicides. These can further damage your liver. If you must use chemicals, cover your skin, wear gloves and a mask, and keep the area well ventilated.
Please note that the information on this website is intended for informational purposes only and should not be used as a substitute for seeking medical advice or treatment from a healthcare professional. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a medical condition or health problem. Speak to a healthcare professional if you have any questions about your health, medical condition, symptoms or treatment options.
NHS Choices website
American Liver Foundation
The American Liver Foundation’s dedicated online information resource centre for Hepatitis C (or Hep C for short). Their resource centre was created to provide information and support to those affected by the Hepatitis C virus (HCV).
Hepatitis C Association
The focus of the Hepatitis C Association is to educate the public, both patients and medical providers, about hepatitis C virus. We offer factual information through educational programmes and support materials