What Are the Side Effects of Hepatitis C Treatment?
Medical Science Can Cure Hepatis C
Hepatitis C is a stubborn virus that’s fairly common and is spread by blood-to-blood contact between people. It may be transmitted through sex with an infected person, or by sharing personal items contaminated with infectious blood, but these are less common. It is not spread through breast milk, food, or water, or by casual contact, such as hugging, kissing, and sharing food or drinks with an infected person.
The human immune system is very good at fighting off constant bacterial infections and the myriad viruses that cause the common cold and even the flu. However, it can’t easily kill the hepatitis C virus.
Fortunately, there are drugs available that can vanquish hepatitis C. And there may be new drugs coming on the market soon.
Drugs That Work
Interferon is a protein produced naturally in the body. The synthetic version taken by injection once a week stimulates the immune system to neutralize or destroy the hepatitis C virus.
Ribavirin is a drug taken by mouth daily. It fights certain viruses, including hepatitis C.
Boceprevir and Telaprevir are anti-viral drugs that work by keeping the hep C virus from replicating. These drugs can’t be taken together. They’re used individually with either interferon or ribavirin.
Treatment Can Be Daunting
Hepatitis C drugs cause side effects, most commonly a flu-like reaction that goes away after a few weeks. Most of the side effects aren’t life threatening. However, it can be difficult to tolerate them for the full course of treatment, which lasts from six months to a year. Being knowledgeable about your treatment and its side effects can help you manage them.
Physical Side Effects
The most common physical side effects from hepatitis C drugs include:
- muscle aches
- nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea
- dry mouth, thick saliva, and mouth ulcers
- poor appetite
While being treated for hepatitis C, it’s important to be as healthy, overall, as you can be. That means eating a balanced, nutritious diet and drinking plenty of water so you don’t get dehydrated. If side effects are making you feel sick, talk to your doctor about ways to manage the physical symptoms.
Mental Side Effects
Hepatitis C drugs may also cause side effects that affect your mental health. These include:
- poor sleep or insomnia
- being irritable or short-tempered
- low mood or depression
Interferon stimulates certain parts of the body, sometimes making it difficult to sleep. Lack of good sleep and rest may other problems such as anxiety, being short-tempered or feeling sad or low.
Talk to your doctor about ways to improve how you sleep. Keeping a regular sleep schedule, learning relaxation techniques, timing your medications, and talking to others about how you’re feeling—both physically and mentally—can help.
Side Effects on Skin and Hair
Treating hepatitis C can cause other side effects, as well. They include:
- injection-site reactions
- hair loss
- skin rashes
About one-third of patients taking interferon experience some hair loss. Once treatment ends, your hair will grow back. Skin rashes from ribavirin may come and go, mainly on the body and arms. Cool baths and skin lotions can help.
Injection-site reactions can be minimized by changing the injection spot and applying an ice pack. Talk to your doctor if you’re concerned about these problems.
When to Call Your Doctor
Although it doesn’t happen very often, hepatitis C drugs may cause serious side effects. It’s important to learn what they are so you can identify them and get immediate medical help if you experience the following:
- chest pain
- shortness of breath
- vision changes
- thyroid problems
Any of these side effects can be potentially serious. Speak with your doctor about how you’re feeling and don’t hesitate to go to the emergency room if necessary.
It’s a Team Effort
Managing hepatitis C takes a team: you, your doctor, nurses, physician’s assistants, phlebotomists, and lab technicians. It’s important to check in with your doctor frequently to let them know how your therapy is going and how you’re feeling. Hepatitis C is a serious disease that takes time and effort to get under control, but doing so may save your life.
- Hepatitis C. (2009, October 1). National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Retrieved November 15, 2013, from http://www.niaid.nih.gov/topics/hepatitis/hepatitisc/Pages/Default.aspx
- Hepatitis C. (n.d.). National Institutes of Health. Retrieved November 15, 2013, from http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/hepatitisc.html
- Hepatitis C Treatment. (2013, January 10). U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Retrieved November 15, 2013, from http://www.hepatitis.va.gov/patient/treat/index.asp