You may or may not receive treatment for hepatitis C, depending on:
- How damaged your liver is.
- Other health conditions you have.
- How much hepatitis C virus you have in your body.
- What type (genotype) of hepatitis C you have.
The medicines used to treat hepatitis C can cause serious side effects, are expensive, and don't work for everyone.
Treatment of short-term (acute) hepatitis C
Most people who have acute hepatitis C don't get treated, because they don't know that they have the virus.
If a person knows that he or she may have been exposed to the virus-such as a health care worker who is stuck by a needle-acute hepatitis C can be found early. Most people who are known to have an acute hepatitis C infection get treated with medicine. In these cases, treatment may help prevent long-term (chronic) infection, although there is still some debate over when to begin treatment and how long to treat acute hepatitis C.6
Treatment of long-term (chronic) hepatitis C
It is common for people to live with hepatitis C for years without knowing they have it, because they do not have symptoms. So most people diagnosed with hepatitis C find out that they already have long-term, chronic infection.
Treatment with a combination of antiviral medicines can fight the viral infection and prevent serious liver problems like cirrhosis or liver cancer. They are used for 12 weeks to a year and help your body get rid of the virus.
Some people who at first decide not to have treatment later decide they want to have it.
Your doctor can help you decide whether medicines are right for you.
Palliative care is a kind of care for people who have a serious illness. It's different from care to cure your illness. Its goal is to improve your quality of life-not just in your body but also in your mind and spirit.
You can have this care along with treatment to cure your illness. You can also have it if treatment to cure your illness no longer seems like a good choice.
Palliative care providers will work to help control pain or side effects. They may help you decide what treatment you want or don't want. And they can help your loved ones understand how to support you.
If you're interested in palliative care, talk to your doctor.
For more information, see the topic Palliative Care.
Treatment of relapse or nonresponse
Sometimes you can take a different combination of medicines if your first round of treatment didn't work very well. The decision to try treatment again is based on several things including how well you tolerated the first treatment and how well the first round of treatment worked. Talk to your doctor about whether you might try medicines again.
Treatment if the condition gets worse
Severe liver damage caused by chronic hepatitis C usually takes 20 or more years to develop.
If your hepatitis C continues to get worse, it can cause your liver to stop working, a condition called end-stage liver failure. In this case, a liver transplant may be the only way to extend your life. But if you are drinking alcohol, are sharing needles to inject drugs, or have severe depression or certain other mental illnesses, liver transplant may not be an option.
Most people with chronic hepatitis C will not die from the disease. But 1 to 5 out of 100 people with severe liver damage from chronic hepatitis C will die because of the virus.7 Even if a liver transplant is done as a last possible treatment, there can be complications that lead to death. For more information about decisions to help prepare for death and dying, see the topic Care at the End of Life.
What to think about
Researchers are working to develop other treatments, including gene therapy and medicines that help control the immune system.