Hepatitis C and depression are two separate health conditions that can occur at the same time. Living with chronic hepatitis C increases the risk that you may also experience depression.

Hepatitis C is a viral infection of the liver. A person can only contract hepatitis C through exposure to certain bodily fluids, such as blood, of a person who is living with the condition.

Depression is a common mood disorder. It’s usually characterized by feelings of sadness and fatigue, among other symptoms.

Several factors explain why the risk of depression goes up following a hepatitis C diagnosis. Read on to find out more about the connection between hepatitis C and depression.

Though hepatitis C and depression may seem unrelated, researchers have found a link between them. The link may be related to the challenges of living with hepatitis C itself, or the challenges of treating it.

The diagnosis connection

Several studies have shown that people who are diagnosed with a hepatitis C have higher rates of depression compared to other groups.

In one report, researchers noted that someone with hepatitis C may be 1.4 to 4 times more likely to experience depression, compared to people with hepatitis B or the general population. They also suggest that about one-third of people with hepatitis C also have depression.

But rates of depression are higher in some research. For example, in one small study, researchers found that 86 percent of participants with hepatitis C also had depression. In contrast, 68 percent of participants with hepatitis B had depression.

Researchers don’t know for sure why hepatitis C and depression are linked, but one theory focuses on the direct effects of the condition. It’s common for people who learn that they have hepatitis C to experience a range of emotions about the diagnosis. For some, this may include fear of the effects of the disease, and guilt about contracting it or transmitting it to others.

When hepatitis C is chronic, it can cause symptoms that may be difficult to manage, such as exhaustion, pain, and nausea. In turn, these may be linked to depression.

The treatment connection

Some evidence suggests that certain medications for hepatitis C may cause depression as a side effect of treatment. For example, one research report notes that interferon, a common treatment for hepatitis C, is associated with a 30 to 70 percent risk of depression as a side effect.

Another study showed that people who develop depression during interferon therapy may have a higher risk of experiencing depression again after treatment. The researchers suggest that healthcare providers should follow up after interferon therapy to check for depression symptoms.

Newer medications for hepatitis C, known as direct-acting antiviral drugs, have fewer common side effects than interferon. Your doctor can advise you about treatments that are less likely to cause depression as a side effect.

Keep in mind, newer medications for hepatitis C completely cure the condition in more than 90 percent of people. They also dramatically reduce the risk of long-term liver damage and other complications.

If you’re living with hepatitis C and you’re concerned that you may be experiencing depression, it’s important to seek help. Depression can affect many aspects of your life — including school or work, sleeping, and eating. Getting treatment can make a difference.

Some common symptoms of depression include:

  • irritability
  • always feeling sad, nervous, hopeless, or “empty”
  • being tired or fatigued
  • feelings of worthlessness, guilt, or helplessness
  • losing interest in activities and hobbies
  • weight loss or reduced appetite
  • trouble sleeping
  • physical aches like headaches, digestive issues, or cramps
  • trouble getting up in the morning
  • difficulty making decisions
  • thinking about death or suicide

If you’re having thoughts of suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 800-273-8255 or use their live online chat. Both of these services are free and available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. You can also go to your closest hospital emergency department or call your local emergency number.

If you’re concerned about depression or your emotional well-being in general, talk to your doctor, a mental health counselor, or another healthcare professional. MentalHealth.gov also recommends a treatment referral line.

If you’re diagnosed with depression, your healthcare provider may suggest treatment with medication, talk therapy, or a combination of the two.

You may find some lifestyle changes helpful as well. For example, common lifestyle approaches for depression include journaling, meditation, yoga and other types of exercise, eating a nutrition diet, and spending time outside. Aiming to get good quality sleep is helpful, too.

It’s important to tell your healthcare providers if you’re being treated for hepatitis C, depression, or both. Medications and lifestyle changes for depression don’t usually interfere with treatments for hepatitis C, but it’s best to be cautious. Keeping your whole healthcare team informed about your treatments can help ensure your overall treatment plan is effective.

If you’re living with hepatitis C, you may be at higher risk for depression. Treatments for both conditions are available. Talk to your healthcare provider about what options may be best for you.

Some medications can provide a complete cure for hepatitis C. Therapies for depression may help you learn to manage the symptoms and feel better. It’s possibly to recover completely from both conditions.

Read this article in Spanish.