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Hepatitis C and Fatigue

When you have hepatitis C, you're no stranger to fatigue. It's a top challenge for people living with this liver disease. A number of things can cause you to be tired, so it can be hard to pinpoint one reason. The hepatitis virus itself may be to blame. Liver damage causes fatigue, as do some of the treatments.

Is It the Virus, or the Treatment?

Research studies disagree about whether the hepatitis C virus itself causes fatigue. Some people have flu-like symptoms -- including fatigue -- when they are infected with the hepatitis C virus. But not everyone does. And some people with hep C whose liver tests are normal still say they feel tired all the time.

Two things are clear: People who have scarring of the liver, called cirrhosis, are more likely to have fatigue. And taking interferon, which is part of the standard treatment, almost always causes fatigue.

The good news is, if you go through treatment and are cured, your fatigue will get better.

If you're having trouble with daily activities because you're too tired, talk to your doctor about your treatment options. Newer drugs can sometimes be added to interferon therapy to wipe out the virus more quickly, so you don't have to deal with side effects for so long.

Depression Can Cause Fatigue

Anyone with a long-lasting illness can get depression. Hepatitis C is no different. You may be angry, anxious, or sad about your health or the changes you've had to make in your life.

Or here again, the treatment you're getting for hep C may be causing problems. About 20% to 35% of people who take interferon and ribavirin to treat hepatitis C develop depression.

Your doctor can help. Tell him how you're feeling. He may prescribe an antidepressant. He can also help you find a therapist or support group where you can talk to others who are facing the same issues.

Fatigue-Fighting Tips

Pace yourself. You may have days when you feel fine, and other days when you are just too tired to do things you normally do. Listen to your body, and give yourself some downtime when you need it.

Don't drink. You should avoid alcohol, not only because of the danger to your liver, but also because it can make you tired.

Eat smaller meals, more often. Frequent meals give your body and your brain a regular supply of fuel. Make sure to eat healthy -- lots of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Fatty, fried, and processed foods can zap your energy.

Exercise. It sounds hard when you're already tired, but exercise can actually give you energy. It can boost your mood, too. If your doctor gives you the green light, start with a 10-minute walk, and build up to 30 minutes of moderate activity on most days of the week.

Manage stress. When you have a long-term illness, you may not be able to get ride of stress. But you can learn to manage it better. Try practicing yoga, meditation, or other relaxation techniques on a regular basis.

Get enough sleep. Hepatitis C treatment can cause insomnia. Make sure you're doing all you can to get a good night's sleep:

  • Don't watch TV (or text or read) in bed.
  • Go to sleep and get up at the same time every day.
  • Keep your bedroom cool and quiet.
  • Don't drink caffeine late in the day.

If you still can't sleep, talk to your doctor. Sleeping pills may give you some short-term help.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Arefa Cassoobhoy, MD, MPH on November 11, 2013

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