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Managing Hepatitis C

It's important for people with hepatitis C to take control of their health. There's a lot you can do on a day-to-day basis that will help protect your liver from damage and keep you feeling good. 

So in addition to exercising, eating right and getting medical and emotional support, here are some things to keep in mind.

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Avoid Illness With Hepatitis C

Other viruses that damage the liver, such as hepatitis A or B, are especially dangerous to people with hepatitis C. Your doctor may recommend that you get vaccinated to protect yourself from these viruses.

Other illnesses can also cause special problems for people with hepatitis C. HIV can weaken the immune system and allow hepatitis C to progress quickly. If you have multiple sexual partners, you need to use condoms. Condoms not only protect your partners from getting hepatitis C, but also protect you from other STDs.

Get Enough Sleep if You Have Hepatitis C

People with hepatitis C often have a hard time sleeping, especially during treatment.

"I think insomnia is an underreported side effect of treatment," says David Thomas, MD, professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore. "A lot of patients are embarrassed to ask about it because they think it's trivial."

But not getting enough sleep can have a big impact. Alan Franciscus, executive director of the Hepatitis C Support Project in San Francisco, says that many of the vague symptoms of hepatitis C, such as fatigue, are also symptoms of not getting enough sleep. Since the two conditions go hand in hand, they can compound your symptoms.

There's no special cure for insomnia caused by hepatitis C or its treatment. Franciscus recommends common sense techniques such as taking relaxing baths and not exercising or eating too close to bedtime.

Sleep medication can help, too. Thomas often recommends drugs like Ambien for those people suffering from insomnia.

Be Careful With Medications, Drugs, and Alcohol

Your liver breaks down and filters out substances from your bloodstream. Hepatitis C can reduce your liver's ability to do this. As a result, medications, herbs, drugs, and alcohol may stay in your system longer and have a more powerful effect. Some substances pose the risk of serious liver damage, especially for people with hepatitis C.

Common painkillers and cold remedies with aspirin and acetaminophen ( for example,Tylenol) can be toxic to people with damaged livers, especially when taken with alcohol. Even large doses of vitamins -- such as vitamins A and D -- can be harmful. Many herbal remedies also pose a risk.

"I think we have to be very careful with herbal remedies," says Franciscus. "They can be powerful medicine, and some of them can do real harm."

If you have hepatitis C, don't assume that over-the-counter medications are safe for you. Never take any drugs, supplements or alternative medicines before talking to your doctor.

If you're a smoker, try to quit, Franciscus says. Obviously, you should not be using illegal drugs. If you are, get into a treatment program.

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