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Break It Down: Treatments for Hep C (Transcript)


Hepatitis C, also called Hep C, is a viral infection that can cause inflammation and eventually serious damage to the liver. The virus is most commonly spread through human contact with infected blood. The symptoms of Hep C are usually very mild to undetectable, so you may have no idea that you’re infected. Left untreated, chronic hepatitis C can lead to cirrhosis of the liver or liver cancer, both of which can be fatal.


The people most at risk for contracting Hep C are users of illegal intravenous drugs, particularly persons who share needles with someone who’s infected. Medical professionals are also at risk when they come in contact with an infected person who’s bleeding or has an open wound. Historically, blood transfusions and organ transplants exposed people to Hep C, but modern screening processes have largely eliminated that risk in the United States. In rare instances, the virus can be spread through unprotected sexual contact or by sharing personal hygiene items, such as toothbrushes and razors.

About 15 to 20 percent of people infected with hepatitis C don’t require medical treatment and suffer no long-term damage to their health. But if your immune system doesn’t resolve the problem on its own, Hep C enters a chronic phase where the infection begins to damage the liver. However, there still may be minimal or no symptoms. Because of this, chronic Hep C can go unnoticed for years, or only be discovered from a blood test.


Treatments for Hepatitis C are evolving quickly and vary based on the specific genotype, or version, of the virus. The current standard of care is use of an anti-viral medication, called a polymerase inhibitor, to help eradicate the infection. This therapy is combined with ribavirin, which is an immune system booster. A third medication, called interferon, is sometimes added. These treatments can take from 12 to 24 weeks. The good news is that a large percentage of persons with chronic hepatitis C respond positively and can be cured.

The latest treatments for Hepatitis C utilize what are called “direct-acting antivirals.” These medications, which include protease inhibitors, target specific aspects of the virus and prevent it from replicating. These newer antivirals are packaged with other drugs, such as ribavirin, into multi-drug cocktails that attack the infection on several fronts. These newest treatments are up to 96% effective, even among patients who didn’t respond to prior therapies. All of these treatments carry a risk for side effects. Your doctor will tailor the therapy based on how long you’ve had hepatitis and if you’re also being treated for another condition, such as HIV.

As in most things medical, some patients respond better than others, and some strains of the disease are harder to fight than others. If hepatitis C progresses to the point that the liver is no longer able to function, liver transplantation may be the only viable course of action.

It’s important to note that many people with chronic hepatitis C live perfectly normal lives. Clinicians and scientists wish that this disease was more predictable, but for now, that is simply not possible. Even with the latest therapeutic advances, every effort should be made to avoid becoming infected by the hepatitis C virus.


Hepatitis C is a serious infection that can lead to liver damage. You may not even know that you have the virus that causes hepatitis C because the condition often has no symptoms.

Early treatment of hepatitis C can make a difference. Read on to find out your treatment options and other helpful remedies.

Do I Need Treatment?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), up to 25 percent of those who contract the hepatitis C virus will recover from it with no treatment at all. These people will not develop a more chronic form of the condition.

If you have acute hepatitis C, this short-term infection cannot adequately be treated with medication. Doctors generally treat only chronic hepatitis C.

What Medical Treatments Are Available?

If you are diagnosed with chronic hepatitis C, your doctor may recommend taking a combination of medicines to try to prevent the virus from harming your liver. These antiviral medicines are called interferon and ribavirin. Treatment with this combo usually lasts between 24 and 48 weeks.

Since these drugs can lead to serious side effects, it’s important to discuss your treatment options with your doctor. Not everyone who has chronic hepatitis C will benefit from taking medicines.

Do I Need a Transplant?

In more severe cases and in later stages of hepatitis C, you may need a liver transplant. This form of treatment is only used if the virus has caused serious liver damage that may lead to liver failure.

During a transplant, surgeons will remove your injured liver and replace it with a healthy organ from a donor. After a transplant, you’ll be prescribed medicines to help ensure the success of the transplant.

What are my Testing Options?

As part of your treatment for hepatitis C, you may need to be tested for liver cancer. By performing an ultrasound test on your liver each year, or sometimes as often as every six months, your doctor will be better able to help detect liver cancer.

Having hepatitis C puts you at greater risk for liver cancer. For this reason, getting regular ultrasounds can be an important part of your ongoing treatment.

Are There Any Home Treatments?

The Mayo Clinic has identified some lifestyle changes you can make to help slow the progression of hepatitis C and keep you healthier:

  • Be careful with your medicines. Some medicines, even those prescribed by your doctor, may have the side effect of causing liver damage. Talk to your doctor about whether you should avoid certain prescription or over-the-counter drugs.
  • Avoid alcohol. Since drinking alcoholic beverages can increase how quickly liver disease progresses, it’s best to avoid drinking them if you have hepatitis C.
  • Don’t share. Since the virus can be transmitted through blood, don’t donate blood or share razors.

Are There Any Alternative Treatments?

While some people believe that certain herbs can aid liver health, the Mayo Clinic confirms that there are no proven alternative medicines or therapies for treating hepatitis C.

Milk thistle is sometimes recommended to treat liver problems. However, studies have confirmed that milk thistle has not been shown to be any more effective than placebo for treatment of hepatitis C. This is true no matter what form the herb is taken as, whether capsules or extracts.


According to the Mayo Clinic, not everyone who is diagnosed with hepatitis C will benefit from treatment. Your doctor may advise that you simply continue getting regular blood tests, which your doctor can use for helping you avoid liver damage.

Practice prevention and exercise caution when it comes to protecting yourself from hepatitis C. If you are diagnosed with the condition, be sure to check with your doctor before starting any treatments.