It can take time for chronic hepatitis C to cause serious symptoms. But that doesn’t mean it’s safe to delay treatment. Starting treatment early may lower your risk of developing complications from the illness, including liver scarring and liver cancer.

Read on to learn why it’s important to start treatment as soon as possible after being diagnosed with this condition.

Thanks to recent breakthroughs in treatment, antiviral medications can cure more than 90 percent of cases of hepatitis C.

Compared to older treatments, newer generations of antiviral medications are more effective at curing this hepatitis C infection. Newer medications tend to require shorter courses of treatment than older options. They also tend to cause fewer side effects. That means there are fewer reasons than ever to delay treatment.

There are multiple medications available to treat hepatitis C. Most courses of treatment take 6 to 24 weeks to complete, reports the American Liver Foundation.

One course of antiviral treatment might be enough to clear the virus from your body and cure the infection. But in some cases, people need two or more courses of treatment. If your first course of treatment isn’t successful, your doctor will likely prescribe another course with different medications.

Starting treatment early can give you more time to find a treatment that works.

Hepatitis C causes damage to your liver. Over time, this damage can cause a type of scarring known as cirrhosis. Within 15 to 25 years of contracting hepatitis C, an estimated 20 to 30 percent of people develop cirrhosis.

The more advanced cirrhosis becomes, the harder it will be for your liver to process nutrients and remove waste products from your body. Late-stage cirrhosis can cause serious health problems, such as:

  • high blood pressure in the veins that supply blood to your liver
  • burst veins and bleeding in your esophagus and stomach
  • build-up of fluid in your legs and abdomen
  • build-up of toxins in your brain
  • enlargement of your spleen
  • malnutrition and weight loss
  • increased risk of infection
  • increased risk of liver cancer
  • liver failure

After cirrhosis develops, it may not be possible to reverse it. That’s why it’s so important to take steps to prevent it. Early treatment for hepatitis C may help prevent or limit the development of cirrhosis, lowering your risk of developing liver cancer, liver failure, and other complications.

The longer you wait to begin treatment, the longer the virus has to cause potentially life-threatening damage to your liver. Without antiviral treatment, an estimated 67 to 91 percent of people with hepatitis C-related liver scarring die from liver cancer, liver failure, or other liver-related causes.

Getting early treatment may help prevent life-threatening complications, which might add years to your life. Preventing complications can also help you enjoy a better quality of life for longer.

Hepatitis C is transmitted from one person to another through blood-to-blood contact. Today, the most common routes of transmission include:

  • being born to a mother with hepatitis C
  • sharing needles or syringes that have been used to inject recreational drugs
  • being accidentally stuck with a used needle while working as a healthcare provider

Although it’s less common, hepatitis C can also be passed through:

  • sexual contact
  • sharing personal care products, such as razors or toothbrushes
  • getting body piercings or tattoos in unregulated settings

If you have hepatitis C, there are steps you can take to lower your risk of transmitting the virus to other people. In addition to practicing protective strategies, early treatment may help. After the infection is cured, it can’t be transmitted to other people.

In some cases, your doctor might encourage you to delay treatment for hepatitis C. If you’re pregnant, for example, they might advise you to wait until you’ve given birth to reduce the risk of birth defects from antiviral medications.

In most cases, starting treatment right away may be the best choice you can make for your health. Talk to your doctor to learn more about your treatment options and the potential benefits of starting treatment early.