12 Ways to Prepare for Hepatitis C Treatment
- 12 Ways to Prepare for Hepatitis C TreatmentNot every person infected with hepatitis C requires treatment. As many as one-fourth of infected people will clear the virus from their systems without it. For those whose immune systems need a helping hand, new treatments are available that last several weeks to months and are much easier to tolerate than older medications. While older therapies tended to have serious side effects, these newer options don't affect the body as severely. However, it's still smart to head into treatment with the knowledge and resources you'll need to cope.
- 1. Learn All You CanAsk your doctor about all your options. Take time to read up on the medications you'll be taking. Newer drugs, like Harvoni, Zepatier, and Epclusa, can be taken as a single pill once a day. Other drugs, like Viekira Pak and Mavyret, are taken more than once a day.
Some people may benefit more from the older hepatitis C drugs; if this is the case for you, you may take a drug called peginterferon with ribavirin, potentially with the addition of another medication. Consider connecting with an organization such as the American Liver Foundation for resources and support.
- 2. Make Healthy ChangesTo support your body during treatment, eat a nutritious diet, including whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and lean protein. Avoid fatty, salty, and sugary foods. Ask your doctor about your iron levels; if they're high, avoid iron-rich foods such as red meat and fortified cereal. Get enough sleep, exercise regularly, and drink plenty of water. Avoid alcohol during your treatment—it places extra strain on your liver.
- 3. Assess Your Other Health ProblemsYour overall health should be as strong as possible before beginning hepatitis therapy. If you have other conditions—such as diabetes, heart disease, HIV/AIDS, substance abuse, or gout—you may need other tests or treatments first. Also, ask if you should get a vaccine against hepatitis A and B.
- 4. Think Through Your Contraception MethodsRibavirin, one of the medications used in older hepatitis therapy, causes serious birth defects. And birth control pills may be less effective during treatment. You and your partner should use two other forms of birth control while you're undergoing hepatitis treatment and for six months afterward. For instance, use condoms plus an intrauterine device or a diaphragm.
- 5. Ask for HelpAlthough newer medications for hepatitis C have much milder side effects, you still may experience some fatigue, nausea, and stomach problems. As your treatment progresses, you may feel tired and run down. You may not be able to handle all your regular responsibilities at home or work, especially on the day or two following a peginterferon shot. Make arrangements with your employer and your friends and family beforehand. Explain that you'll need extra time to rest and could use assistance with certain tasks.
- 6. Talk With Your Doctor About AlternativesSome people use alternative therapies alongside traditional hepatitis treatments. Massage, yoga, and meditation can help you cope with the stress and side effects of your hepatitis C medication. But alternative medicines—such as mega-vitamins or herbs—can harm your liver or interact with your prescription medication. Check with your doctor before taking them.
- 7. Sort Out Your ScheduleSome hepatitis C regimens require you to take medications at particular intervals. For instance, with Viekira Pak, you'll take one pill once a day and another pill two times a day. On an older triple therapy, you'll take boceprevir every eight hours with food and ribavirin twice daily, and you'll get a weekly peginterferon injection. Adjust your daily routine as needed. Keep side effects in mind—ribavirin can disrupt sleep, so you'll want to finish your daily dose before 6 p.m.
- 8. Book Your AppointmentsTalk with your doctor about how often you'll need to visit him or her during your treatment process. You may need monthly check-ins and blood draws. Your doctor will check to see if your treatment is working and also monitor for side effects, such as low blood cell counts.
- 9. Have a Backup PlanMissing a dose can happen to anyone. It's important to know what to do when it occurs. In most cases, taking pills within an hour of your scheduled time won't make a difference. But if too much time passes, your doctor may have different instructions depending on when your next dose is scheduled. Ask ahead of time how to handle missed doses, and call your doctor with questions along the way.
- 10. Explore Your HistoryIf a certain hepatitis treatment doesn't work, you may undergo different types or rounds of therapy. It's important for you and your doctor to understand what happened during past treatments before you begin a new plan. Ask specifically whether your viral loads decreased and whether you have cirrhosis, or scarring of the liver. This can change your doctor's advice about new medications.
- 11. Seek Out SupportDiscuss your feelings about illness and treatment with those closest to you, including family, friends, and spiritual leaders. Consider joining a hepatitis C support group to connect with others in a similar situation. Look to this network for help in difficult times, but also to remind you to engage in activities that bring you enjoyment.
- 12. Stay OrganizedGathering all your medical and insurance information in one place can make treatment go more smoothly. Include such documents as recent test results, a list of your medications and immunizations, phone numbers for your health care providers, your insurance card, and a list of emergency contacts. Consider using a phone or other alarm to remind you to take medications.