Hepatitis C can often be treated successfully by taking a combination of medicines for several months.
Ifthe infection is diagnosed inthe early stages, known as acute hepatitis, treatment may not need to begin straightaway.
Instead, you may have another blood test after a few months to see if your body fights off the virus.
If the infection continues for several months, known as chronic hepatitis, treatment will usually be recommended.
Treatment for hepatitis C involves:
You'll normally need to take medication for 12 to 48 weeks. The length of time will depend on the exact medicines you're takingand which version (strain) of the hepatitis C virus you have. Your doctor will advise you about this.
There are six main strains of the virus. In the UK, the most common strains are known as genotype 1 and genotype 3.
During treatment, you should have Blood tests to checkifyour medication is working. If the test shows treatment ishaving little effect, it may be stopped as further treatment may be of little use.
There are somethings you can do to help limit any damage to your liver and prevent the infection spreading to others.
Readsome FAQs about living with hepatitis C for more information.
Until relatively recently, treatment for chronic hepatitis C usually involved taking two main medicines:
These medications werefrequently just taken together,butnowadays they're often combined with a third medication, such as simeprevir or sofosbuvir. These are newer hepatitis C medications that have been shown to make treatment more effective.
Insome cases, a combination of these newer medications may be taken without needing to take pegylated interferon and ribavirin as well.
You can be trained to inject yourself at home. It usually needs to be taken forup to48 weeks, depending on your circumstances.
Ribavirin is available as capsules, tablets or an oral solution. It's normally taken twice a day with food. It needs to be taken alongside pegylated interferon forup to48 weeks.
For more information, see the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) guidelines on peginterferon alfa and ribavirin for the treatment of chronic hepatitis C .
There are also a number of newer medicines that are often used to treat hepatitis C nowadays.
Some of these are taken alongside pegylated interferon and ribavirin, while some can be taken on their own or in combination with other new medicines.
These medications include:
These medications are taken as tablets once or twice a day for between8 and 48 weeks, depending on the exact medicine you're taking, your hepatitis C genotype, and the severity of your condition.
These medicines are generally used to treat people with either genotype 1 or genotype 4 hepatitis C, although sometimes they'realso used to treat people with other genotypes.
For more information, see the NICE guidelines on:
Research into even more effective medications is ongoing.
The effectiveness of treatment for hepatitis C can depend on the strain of the virus you have.
Genotype 1 used to be more challenging to treat and, until quite recently, less than half of people treated would be cured.
However, with the newer medications now available, the chances of a cure can be much higher.
Combinations of tablets can now have a cure rate of more than 90%. This is higher than the chances of curing most other hepatitis C genotypes.
Treatment for genotype 3 will usually involve the standard treatments of pegylated interferon and ribavirin. About 70-80% of those treated will be cured.
If the virus is successfully cleared with treatment, it's important to be aware that you're not immune to the infection. This means, for example, that you could become infected again if you continue to inject drugs after treatment.
If treatment doesn't work, it may be repeated, extended, or tried using a different combination of medicines.
Side effects of combination therapy involving interferon are quite common. The new tablet treatments have far fewer side effects and most people feel unaffected by them.
If your treatment involves interferon, side effects can include:
Hepatitis C medications can have unpredictable reactions when takenwith other medicines or remedies. Always check with your specialist, GP or pharmacist before taking other types of medication.
Any side effects may improve with time as your body gets used to the medications. Tell your care team if any side effect is becoming particularly troublesome.
Coping with side effectscan be challenging, but you should continue to take your medication as instructed. Missing dosesmay reduce the chances of you being cured.
The medications used to treat hepatitis C, particularly ribavirin, can be harmful to unborn babies and aren't normallyused during pregnancy.
If you're pregnant when diagnosed with the infection, treatment will usually be delayed until you have given birth.
Otherwise, you'll be advised to use contraception throughout your treatment and may need to have regular pregnancy tests.
If you're a man taking ribavirin, youshouldn't havesex with a pregnant women unless you use a condom.
If your partner isn't pregnant, you should ensure contraception is used duringthe course of your treatment. Your partner may need to have regular pregnancy tests.
Some people with chronic hepatitis C decide against treatment. This may be because they:
Your care team can give you advice about this,but the final decision about treatment will be yours.
If you decide not to have treatment but then change your mind, you can ask to be treated at any point.
Read about hepatitis C, a virus that can infect and damage the liver. Find out about the symptoms, causes and treatments for the condition.
Read about the main symptoms of a hepatitis C infection and find out when you should seek medical advice.
Read about the main ways you can become infected with the hepatitis C virus.
Read about who should get tested for hepatitis C and what the test involves.
Read about the main treatments for hepatitis C, including the different medicines that may be used and what lifestyle changes you can make.
Read about the main complications of hepatitis C, including scarring of the liver (cirrhosis), liver failure and liver cancer.