Hepatitis C is a virus that causes inflammation in your liver. Treatment may have side effects. Here are things you can do to feel better during treatment.

The hepatitis C virus (HCV) causes inflammation in your liver. Medications are often prescribed to treat the virus. It’s rare for these medications to lead to serious side effects, but you may notice some mild symptoms.

There are several steps you can take to help yourself feel better while going through treatment. Read about the side effects you may experience and how to deal with them.

Previously, the main treatment used for HCV was interferon therapy. This type of therapy is no longer used because of low cure rates and some significant side effects.

The new standard medications prescribed for HCV infection are direct-acting antivirals (DAAs). These medications are highly effective at treating and curing HCV. In general, they do not cause many side effects, and the side effects that people do experience are relatively mild.

Side effects of DAAs may include:

  • insomnia
  • nausea
  • diarrhea
  • headache
  • fatigue

HCV and the treatment for it may cause side effects, but there are things you can do to feel better. Here are 10 tips for feeling better during treatment for hepatitis C.

Most people with hepatitis C don’t need to follow a special diet, but eating a generally nutritious diet will give you energy and help you feel your best during treatment.

Some medications used to treat hepatitis C may cause you to lose your appetite or feel sick to your stomach.

You can follow these tips to ease those symptoms:

  • Eat small meals or snacks every 3–4 hours, even if you aren’t hungry. Some people feel less sick when they “graze” throughout the day rather than eat bigger meals.
  • Take a light walk before meals. It might help you feel hungrier and less nauseated.
  • Eat fewer fatty, salty, and sugary foods.

Hepatitis C weakens your liver, and drinking alcohol causes inflammation of your liver. Heavy alcohol consumption can speed up the progression of liver disease, and reducing or eliminating alcohol can help slow the progression.

It’s always a good idea to stay well hydrated, but it’s especially important if you’re taking medication to treat hepatitis C. Drinking plenty of water (6–8 glasses a day) can help reduce side effects such as dry mouth, headaches, and dry skin.

Having overweight and associated health conditions, such as type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease, can affect your liver. These conditions, along with hepatitis C, can increase your risk for cirrhosis (scarring) of your liver and cause symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, itching, muscle cramps, and more.

If you have overweight or obesity, losing even 5% of your body weight can help your liver.

Some herbal supplements can harm your liver, especially if you have hepatitis C or another condition that affects your liver. Be sure any herbs or supplements you take are safe for your liver, and let your healthcare team know what medications, herbs, and supplements you take.

Herbs to limit or avoid include:

  • valerian
  • kava
  • skullcap
  • shark cartilage
  • St. John’s wort (may interact with antivirals for hepatitis C)

Getting enough sleep is important for staying healthy and feeling your best during HCV treatment. Unfortunately, insomnia (difficulty sleeping) can be a side effect of some of the medications.

If you’re having trouble falling or staying asleep, try practicing these good sleep 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 bedroom cool whenever possible.
  • Exercise in the early morning or late afternoon, not right before bed.

Sleeping pills can also be helpful. But before starting any sleep medications, talk with your doctor to make sure there are no known interactions with any other medications you’re taking.

Skin conditions such as rash are a common complication of treatment for hepatitis C. Some studies report that taking a break from antiviral treatment may be one effective way to help your skin feel better.

Other ways to take care of your skin include:

  • using weaker topical steroids such as hydrocortisone creams
  • applying thicker emollients such as petroleum jelly, glycerin, or urea
  • avoiding harsh soaps
  • avoiding any substances that irritate your skin

You may feel overwhelmed when you start treatment, and it’s normal to experience feelings of fear, sadness, or anger. Some medications used to treat hepatitis C can increase your risk of developing these feelings, as well as anxiety and depression.

The effects of DAAs on depression during treatment for hepatitis C infection are unclear. However, depression usually improves after completing a treatment course.

Symptoms of depression may include:

  • feeling sad, anxious, irritable, or hopeless
  • losing interest in the things you usually enjoy
  • feeling worthless or guilty
  • moving more slowly than usual or finding it hard to
    sit still
  • experiencing extreme tiredness or lack of energy
  • thinking about death or suicide

If you have symptoms of depression that don’t go away after 2 weeks, talk with your doctor. They may recommend taking antidepressant medications or speaking with a trained therapist.

Your healthcare team may include a mental health professional, and your doctor may also recommend a hepatitis C support group where you can talk with other people who are going through treatment. Some support groups meet in person, while others meet online.

Can I cure hep C on my own?

Sometimes hepatitis C infections will resolve on their own. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), in 15–45% of people who contract hepatitis C, the virus will spontaneously clear up within 6 months without any treatment. However, it’s important to see a doctor if you suspect you may have hepatitis C.

Can you live with hep C without treatment?

Hepatitis C can be a short-term or long-term condition. You can live with it for a while, depending on which type you have. But it’s important to consult a healthcare professional if you suspect you may have hepatitis C since treatment can be highly effective and prevent chronic hepatitis C.

How long does hep C take to damage your liver?

It’s unclear who will have long-term liver damage from hepatitis C. It can happen more quickly for some people but may take 20–30 years for others.

As you start treatment for hepatitis C, it’s important to take care of your mental and physical health. You can take steps such as eating a nutritious diet, trying to get enough sleep, and talking with your doctor about any mental health concerns you experience.

No matter what symptoms you have, remember that there are ways to deal with them.