Hepatitis C is a virus that causes inflammation in the liver. Medications are often prescribed to treat the virus, but they can lead to serious side effects.
Fortunately, there are steps you can take to help you get through treatment. Read about the side effects you may experience and how to deal with them.
Medication Side Effects
Some of the medications used to treat the hepatitis C virus (HCV) have interferon. These medications can cause side effects, including:
- severe fatigue or tiredness
Additionally, interferon and other hepatitis C treatments can trigger flu-like symptoms such as:
- muscle aches
Ease your flu-like symptoms with these steps:
- Take two regular-strength acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) about an hour before your interferon injection.
- Drink more fluids. The American College of Gastroenterology recommends drinking 8 to 10 glasses (8 ounces) of water or other clear beverages each day.
- Take interferon injections right before bed so you can sleep through most of the flu-like symptoms.
Newer medicines with fewer, and less harsh, side effects have been introduced in the past few years. These newer drugs have eliminated the need for interferon in some patients. However, depending on the type of hepatitis C infection you have, you still may be prescribed a treatment with interferon.
Nutrition and Diet
Most people with hepatitis C don’t need to follow a special diet, but eating healthy will give you energy and help keep you feeling your best throughout treatment.
Some medicines used to treat hepatitis C may cause you to lose your appetite or feel sick to your stomach.
Combat these symptoms with these tips:
- Eat small meals or snacks every three to four hours, even if you aren’t hungry. Some people feel less sick when they “graze” throughout the day than when they eat bigger meals.
- Take a light walk before meals. It might help you to feel hungrier and less nauseous.
- Go easy on fatty, salty, or sugary foods.
- Avoid alcohol.
Getting enough sleep is important for staying healthy and feeling your best during HCV treatment. Unfortunately, insomnia, or difficulty sleeping, can be one of the side effects of some of the medications.
If you’re having trouble falling or staying asleep, start practicing these good sleeping habits:
- Go to bed at the same time and get up at the same time each day.
- Avoid caffeine, tobacco, and other stimulants.
- Keep your sleeping room cool.
- Exercise in the early morning or late afternoon, but not right before bed.
Sleeping pills can also be helpful. Talk to your doctor before starting any sleep medications to make sure that there are no known interactions with any of the other medicines you are taking.
You may be overwhelmed when you start HCV treatment and it’s normal to experience feelings of fear, sadness, or anger.
But some medications used to treat hepatitis C can increase your risk of developing these feelings, as well as anxiety and depression.
A review of medical studies, conducted in 2012 found that 1 in 4 people that start interferon and ribavirin treatment for hepatitis C develop depression.
Symptoms of depression can include:
- feeling sad, anxious, irritable, or hopeless
- losing interest in the things you usually enjoy
- feeling worthless or guilty
- moving slower than usual or finding it hard to sit still
- extreme tiredness or lack of energy
- thinking about death or giving up
If you have symptoms of depression that don’t go away after two weeks, talk with your doctor. They may recommend taking antidepressant medicines or speaking with a trained therapist.
Your doctor may also recommend a hepatitis C support group where you can talk with other people going through treatment. Some support groups meet in person, while others meet online.
No matter what symptoms you experience, remember that there are ways to deal with them.