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Understanding Hepatitis C -- Diagnosis and Treatment

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Because hepatitis C doesn't always cause symptoms, you may not know you have the virus. Your doctor won't likely check for hepatitis C unless you have abnormal liver tests, think you've had contact with a person who is infected, or if you were born between 1945 and 1965. If you think you may have the disease, you can get a blood test.

Who Should Get Tested?

The CDC recommends that you have a bloodtest for hepatitis C if you:

  • Received blood from a donor who later was found to have the disease.
  • Ever injected drugs.
  • Got a blood transfusion or an organ transplant before July 1992.
  • Received a blood product used to treat clotting problems before 1987.
  • Were born between 1945 and 1965.
  • Ever had long-term kidney dialysis.
  • Have HIV.
  • Were born to a mother with hepatitis C.
  • Work in a health care environment where needle sticks are possible.
  • Have abnormal liver tests or liver disease.

If you have hepatitis C, your doctor may also do a liver biopsy. He’ll insert a needle into the organ and remove a piece of tissue. It will go to a lab for tests.

What Are the Treatments?

One of the most common treatments is a once-daily pill called Harvoni that cures the disease in most people in 8-12 weeks. It combines two drugs: sofosbuvir (Sovaldi) and ledipasvir. In clinical trials, the most common side effects were fatigue and headache.

Other options your doctor may recommend include a combination of ombitasvir-paritaprevir-ritonavir plus dasabuvir, or simeprevir plus sofosbuvir.

Interferon or ribavirin used to be the main treatment for hepatitis C. They can have side effects including fatigue, flu-like symptoms, anemia, skin rash, mild anxiety, depression, nausea, and diarrhea.

You can talk with your doctor about what's right for you, based on your medical needs and insurance coverage, since the newer hepatitis C drugs are very expensive.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, DO, MS on March 20, 2015
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