Stop Stress for Help Against Hepatitis C

Medically Reviewed by William Blahd, MD on May 28, 2016
3 min read

If you’ve ever raced against a deadline or mulled a tough decision, you’ve felt the physical and mental weight of stress. And if you have a long-term condition like hepatitis C? It’s part of your everyday life. And you might feel its effects even more when the pressure’s on.

You can’t keep tension from popping up, but you can learn some good ways to get a handle on it. It will leave you freer to focus on how to live a better, healthier life.

Stress doesn’t cause the disease, of course -- an infection with the hepatitis C virus does that. And the disease doesn’t mean you’re more likely to feel stress than someone without it, says Paul J. Rosch, a clinical professor of medicine and psychology at the New York Medical College.

But scientists do know that life with a health problem is stressful, especially when it turns into a long-term illness. That happens for 70%-85% of people with a hep C infection, according to the CDC.

Another link: Some evidence shows that long-term tension saps the power of the body’s immune system. That can lead to serious health issues, including heart disease, diabetes, and high blood pressure.

With an immune system not at its best at fighting off illnesses, Rosch says, the hepatitis C virus can do greater damage to the liver. Symptoms of the disease may begin to show.

Rosch says most people with hep C can go years without feeling symptoms, so they don’t realize the virus is slowly damaging their livers. “The reason for this is that an effective immune system keeps the virus in check,” he says. “Symptoms start to surface when stress impairs this protective effect.”

Plus, if people with hep C turn to alcohol when they’re feeling tense, there’s an even greater risk of liver damage.

When Laurel Welch was a nurse in the 1980s, she had regular contact with blood from the people she was treating. In 1990, she got some tests to look for a cause of her growing fatigue. They showed she had hepatitis C.

Suddenly, stress was a huge part of her life.

“And not just for me, but for my husband and, at the time my daughter was in high school,” Welch says from her home in Massachusetts.

She kept working, though she still struggled with fatigue. She started taking an antidepressant. She says the people around her noticed how stressed out she was.

“Something would happen at work and I would burst into tears,” she says. “People I worked with say my personality completely changed, where I became very irritable and emotional.”

She learned she had to find ways to relax. It’s essential to have some go-to tricks to relieve your stress, and to make time for them regularly.

Welch read, and practiced yoga and Pilates to relax and recharge. She gardened and got outdoors as much as she could. She saw a therapist and talked to her friends. All are good ways to find relief. Others include:

  • Set priorities, so you don’t feel like you have to tackle your whole to-do list at once.
  • Don’t dwell on problems.
  • Avoid alcohol and too much caffeine.
  • Schedule time for both exercise and relaxation.
  • Eat well and stick to a regular schedule.
  • Get a good night’s rest.

Welch eventually had to retire from nursing and, in 2011, she got a liver transplant. She is now hepatitis-C-free -- and, she says, mostly stress-free too.

“After going through what I had to go through, it puts things in perspective,” she says. “Things that I might have stressed out about in the past, I don’t stress on any more.”