While living with hepatitis C may seem challenging, preparing yourself and taking steps to manage the virus can help you live well with the condition. This can include precautions to help prevent complications.

Treatment with antiviral medications can help treat hepatitis C, but it can’t undo liver damage due to the virus. A doctor typically recommends taking precautions to avoid further liver damage.

This article will cover what to expect as you live with hepatitis C.

The latest medications for hepatitis C, called direct-acting antivirals, can help cure the virus in 90–97% of cases. In some cases, a doctor may recommend combining antiviral medications with older hepatitis C medications. Your specific treatment regimen can depend on your hepatitis C genotype or genetic type.

Hepatitis C medications can be expensive, especially if you do not have insurance. But there are ways to manage the costs, including signing up for an assistance program (if you qualify). Resources are also available to help you manage your treatment.

Fatigue or extreme tiredness is a common symptom of hepatitis C.

If you’re feeling fatigued, these strategies may help:

  • Take short naps during the day, if possible.
  • Avoid planning too many activities for one day. You can space strenuous activities out over the week.
  • If your workday is tiring, ask about flexible hours or telecommuting options, if possible.

Your treatment may also cause side effects. The side effects can depend on the specific medication a doctor prescribes but can include:

  • nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea
  • anemia, or a low red blood cell count
  • headache
  • fatigue

Hepatitis C can cause inflammation or swelling of the liver. This inflammation can eventually lead to liver damage called cirrhosis. Cirrhosis is a condition where scar tissue replaces healthy liver tissue. A liver with too much scar tissue may not work as usual.

Some things you can do to help prevent more liver damage include:

  • avoiding consumption of alcohol and recreational drugs (if applicable), as these can further damage your liver
  • maintaining a moderate weight
  • exercising regularly
  • eating a low fat, high fiber diet full of fruit, vegetables, and whole grains and limiting trans fats and saturated fats
  • talking with your doctor before taking vitamins or other supplements, as these can sometimes affect your liver or interact with other medications

Weight and liver health

Overweight and obesity can lead to a buildup of fat in the liver called nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD).

When you already have hepatitis C, NAFLD may raise your risk of getting cirrhosis. You can help prevent or manage NAFLD and maintain liver health by following certain lifestyle changes. These may include following a nutritious, balanced diet, doing regular physical activities, and maintaining a moderate weight.

Some examples of moderate-intensity activities include:

  • walking briskly
  • mowing the lawn
  • swimming
  • bicycling

Some general guidelines for eating well with hepatitis C include:

  • choosing whole grain cereals, breads, and grains
  • eating plenty of fruits and vegetables in a variety of colors
  • avoiding ultra-processed foods containing trans fats
  • limiting fatty, sugary, or salty foods
  • choosing a nutritious eating plan that you can live with and follow long term
  • stopping eating when you’re about 80% full — you may actually be fuller than you think you are
  • boosting your energy by eating small meals or protein-rich snacks every 3–4 hours

Alcohol and liver health

Alcohol can damage cells in the liver. This damage can worsen the effects of hepatitis C on the liver.

If you’re living with hepatitis C and drink alcohol, this can increase your risk of cirrhosis and liver cancer. If you have liver disease, drinking alcohol can accelerate the progression of the disease.

Experts are not sure how much alcohol is too much for people with hepatitis C or whether any level of alcohol consumption is safe.

For this reason, many doctors recommend that people with hepatitis C don’t drink any alcohol.

Receiving a diagnosis of hepatitis C can be stressful and may affect your mental health. Managing stress and practicing self-care is an important part of hepatitis C treatment. Everyone experiences stress differently, so it’s important to find what works for you.

If you’re feeling stressed, you may follow these strategies:

  • Exercise for at least 15 minutes daily: Try walking, running, dancing, biking, golfing, swimming, gardening, or yoga.
  • Take a stress management class: Your employer, healthcare professional, health insurance company, or community center may offer classes to help you learn techniques for managing stress.
  • Set boundaries: Try setting limits to your schedule and remember that it’s OK to say “No.” You can also try not to interact with people who may increase your stress.
  • Cut back on your to-do list: If something doesn’t really need to be done, take it off the list or save it for another day.
  • Ask for help: If needed, you can ask others for help with daily chores or tasks.

If you have hepatitis C, some precautions can help prevent the infection from spreading to others. These same precautions can also help you avoid getting the virus again if treatment cures it. The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases recommends:

  • not sharing needles or drug materials, which is the most common mode of infection
  • not sharing personal hygiene items like toothbrushes, razors, or nail clippers
  • wearing gloves when in contact with the blood or open wounds of someone who may have hepatitis C
  • making sure your tattoo artist or body piercer uses sterile tools and unopened ink

Though rare, it’s possible to get hepatitis C from sexual activity without a condom or a barrier method, especially if the sexual activity causes bleeding or if one partner has HIV.

Hepatitis C can cause symptoms like fatigue and brain fog, and treatment can cause side effects. But in many cases, treatment can help cure hepatitis C.

By practicing self-care and taking precautions, you can help prevent further liver damage and live well with hepatitis C.