Hepatitis C (hep C) infection used to be a lifelong condition for most people. Only about 15 to 25 percent of people clear the hepatitis C virus (HCV) from their body without treatment. For everyone else, the infection becomes chronic.

With advances in hep C treatment, most people can now be cured of HCV.

Many people don’t seek treatment for chronic hepatitis C infection because they don’t know they have the virus. It’s only years later, when hepatitis C leads to serious health issues, that many people seek medical attention.

Early intervention is important because it may help keep people healthy longer.

There are more treatments for hepatitis C available now than ever before. Up until just a few years ago, people living with hepatitis C only had two medication options: pegylated interferon and ribavirin.

Now, there are several medications that your doctor may prescribe.

Newer drugs include protease inhibitors, polymerase inhibitors, and direct-acting antivirals. Each type works a bit differently to block a biological process that the hepatitis C virus needs to thrive.

Your eligibility for each medication depends on the type of hepatitis C virus you have — there are six different genotypes of hepatitis C.

The following medications have FDA approval to treat all six hep C genotypes: Mavyret (glecaprevir/pibrentasvir), Epclusa (sofosbuvir/velpatasvir), and Vosevi (sofosbuvir/velpatasvir/voxilapresvir).

There are other medications that only have approval to treat certain genotypes of hep C. For example:

  • Harvoni (ledipasvir/sofosbuvir) is approved for genotypes 1, 4, 5, and 6.
  • Technivie (ombitasvir/paritaprevir/ritonavir) is approved for genotype 4.
  • Zepatier (elbasvir/grazoprevir) is approved for genotypes 1 and 4.

It’s important to take medication as directed. You can explain any concerns you have about how and when you take the drug. Your doctor may have support options available or may recommend a different treatment plan.

Not every drug is right for every person. Some medications aren’t for people with cirrhosis, people with HIV or hepatitis B, or people who’ve had a liver transplant. Your past treatments, viral load, and overall health are also factors.

Some people stop therapy because of side effects. Since hepatitis C can lead to liver damage, cirrhosis, and liver cancer if not treated, it’s vital to stick with a treatment plan.

Newer drugs have fewer severe side effects than pegylated interferon and ribavirin. Nevertheless, you may feel differently while taking hepatitis C medication. Side effects can include:

  • fatigue
  • headaches or muscle aches
  • cough or shortness of breath
  • depression, mood changes, or confusion
  • itchy, dry skin or skin rash
  • insomnia
  • nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea
  • appetite loss or weight loss

Serious side effects can occur with pegylated interferon and ribavirin treatment. If you’re taking these medications, you should be monitored for these serious side effects:

  • anemia (low red blood cell count)
  • thrombocytopenia (low level of blood clotting cells)
  • light sensitivity in the eyes
  • trouble breathing because of lung tissue inflammation
  • suicidal thoughts, depression, or irritability
  • thyroid disease
  • elevated liver enzymes
  • autoimmune disease flares

Some medications aren’t recommended if there is evidence of liver damage, such as cirrhosis, which refers to scarring of the liver. A co-infection with HIV also affects medication options.

Newer treatment options are easier to take and have fewer side effects. The latest medications for hepatitis C are taken by mouth, in pill form. Treatment generally lasts between 8 weeks to 6 months, depending on the medication.

Overall, new drugs cure the hepatitis C infection in 90 to 100 percent of people, according to the FDA.

In contrast, the older interferon treatments last between 6 months and 12 months. Treatment is administered by injection and often causes flu-like side effects. In addition, interferon only cures the hepatitis C infection in about 40 to 50 percent of people.

Those statistics may make the choice seem easy. But only you and your doctor fully understand the state of your health. It’s important to find the drug that’s the best match for you.

You may want to discuss herbal therapies with your doctor. Some of these may interfere with hepatitis C medications and make them less effective. Natural products, such as shark cartilage, valerian, skullcap, kava, and comfrey, can cause liver damage.

That doesn’t mean you can’t take any over-the-counter supplements. But it’s important to talk about these products with your doctor first. They may be able to recommend other ways for you to manage medication side effects.

The latest drugs available for hepatitis C have high success rates when it comes to curing the condition.

In conversations with your doctor, you can discuss the full range of treatment options. Some of these are combination drugs. Not every medication may be effective for you, even if it’s for the right genotype.

Since hepatitis C treatment plans last several weeks, you should regularly attend medical appointments. Your doctor may also have a list of local groups where you can find emotional support.

There may also be other resources such as community nurses and walk-in clinics. With this information, you will know where to go for help between appointments.

Another option is to explore the online hepatitis C community, where people share their experiences with hepatitis C. For example, the Inspire hepatitis C group allows people to connect, share stories, discuss treatment, and more.

Hepatitis C is an infection that needs active treatment. If you have the hepatitis C virus, you may have several different medication options. Your doctor can advise you on the best choice for your condition and circumstances.

There are more effective treatment options available now than ever before. The vast majority of people can be cured of hepatitis C with the right treatment.

Deciding which treatment plan to follow is an important process. Each medication has possible side effects.

Try to be open with your doctor about your concerns. Through open communication, you can get the information you need to support your health.