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Understanding Hepatitis C -- Diagnosis and Treatment

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How Do I Know if I Have Hepatitis C?

Because hepatitis C doesn't always cause symptoms, you may not know you have the virus. Your doctor won't check for hepatitis C unless you 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 hepatitis C, you can get a blood test. 

The CDC recommends that you have a blood test for hepatitis C if any of the following are true:

  • You received blood from a donor who later was found to have the disease.
  • You have ever injected drugs.
  • You got a blood transfusion or an organ transplant before July 1992.
  • You received a blood product used to treat clotting problems before 1987.
  • You were born between 1945 and 1965.
  • You've had long-term kidney dialysis.
  • You have HIV.
  • You were born to a mother with hepatitis C.

If you have hepatitis C, your doctor may also do a liver biopsy. This is done by inserting a needle into the liver and taking out a piece of tissue, which is then sent to a lab to be tested.

What Are the Treatments for Hepatitis C?

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

Other options your doctor may recommend include taking a combination of Sovaldi, Olysio (simeprevir), interferon (which you take by injection), and/or ribavirin (which comes as a liquid, tablet, or capsule).

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 Arefa Cassoobhoy, MD, MPH on June 19, 2014
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