Although people living with hepatitis C have more medication options than ever before, treatment still takes time. A typical course of therapy lasts 8 to 24 weeks, depending on the type of medication.
Even if you want to focus on getting better, some people feel worn down by treatment. Every drug has side effects, but you can take positive steps to manage them. Here are some ways you can support your own wellness during hepatitis C treatment.
1. Get plenty of rest
One of the most common side effects of hepatitis C treatment is fatigue. If possible, work less and rest more.
Often sticking to a regular bedtime and wake-up time helps with insomnia. Many people follow the same nightly routine, like listening to relaxing music or reading, before going to bed. Routine can help signal your body it’s time to sleep.
Try to avoid caffeine, especially late in the day. It’s best to avoid screens at night, so be sure not to take your phone to bed.
2. Eat a healthy diet
The liver needs support after a hepatitis C diagnosis. An overall healthy diet puts less strain on the liver.
A well-balanced, nutritious diet will include a mix of carbohydrates, lean proteins, and some healthy sources of fat, such as nuts or extra virgin olive oil. Aim to include 5 to 10 servings of fruits and vegetables in your diet every day.
Some foods also help with medication side effects. The BRAT diet — which is an acronym for bananas, rice, applesauce, toast — can help sooth or prevent digestive issues. Try to eat small meals if you experience nausea or poor appetite.
Keep in mind that too much protein or salt can be hard on the liver if you have liver dysfunction or cirrhosis. If you follow a high protein diet, such as the Atkins diet or paleo diet, talk to your doctor about whether you should consider a change. When it comes to salt, aim to limit your consumption to less than 2,000 milligrams (mg) per day.
3. Avoid sweet or spicy foods
Tart or spicy foods can trigger nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Many people on hepatitis C medication are sensitive to these stomach and digestive issues. Try to avoid eating or smelling strong flavored foods during treatment.
One benefit of the BRAT diet is that many people find it bland. Ginger ale or ginger tea can have a mild settling effect on the stomach. Over-the-counter remedies like Imodium and Metamucil can also help relieve digestive symptoms.
4. Avoid alcohol
To support your liver, you should abstain from alcohol. Alcohol makes liver disease get worse faster.
Try to be open with your doctor if you don’t think you can avoid alcohol. If you think you may have a substance abuse issue, let your healthcare providers know so that they can better support your health. They may find treatment options that help you abstain from alcohol while you recover.
5. Avoid supplements
Not all supplements are bad, but some cause liver damage. Don’t take iron, vitamin A, shark cartilage, valerian, kava, or other over-the counter remedies if you have hepatitis C.
If you’ve been taking these supplements, talk to your doctor about it. They may give you alternatives that won’t affect your liver. For example, if you take valerian for sleep, they may offer other solutions for insomnia.
6. Exercise regularly
Exercise helps you maintain a healthy weight. People who have received a hepatitis C diagnosis are more likely to experience diabetes, according to the American Liver Foundation. However, maintaining a healthy weight helps to lower your overall risk.
Staying a healthy weight also lowers your chances of experiencing other health conditions, such as cardiovascular disease. The simple act of exercise may also improve your mood. Just finding time to walk a total of 30 minutes each day makes a difference. Aim to include some resistance exercises or weight training activities twice a week, too.
7. Reach out
Some people with hepatitis C feel isolated or alone during treatment. Groups at community organizations, such as hospitals and local non-profits, can be sources of support.
There are also online groups for people living with hepatitis C to talk about their experiences, such as the Inspire hepatitis C community. If you feel comfortable talking to your friends and family, make the time to discuss what you’re going through. There’s no need to put up a brave face if loved ones offer support.
8. Talk to your doctor
If your symptoms are very challenging, discuss what you’re experiencing with your doctor. She may recommend ways to make treatment easier.
Sometimes, serious side effects are a sign that you need to try a different treatment option. In other cases, it may be possible to modify the current treatment plan.
Every person has their own individual experience with hepatitis C treatment. But there are some common side effects that you can watch out for. As much as possible, support your body and mind with good food and positive movement.
Connect with others who are going through a similar experience. Reach out to those who can give you support. Overall, give yourself permission to rest and help your body heal.