Alan FranciscusMedical Tests
There may be tests your medical provider will order before you start treatment:

  • Pregnancy test—If ribavirin is part of your treatment you will need to verify that you are not pregnant before starting treatment. This is also true if you are a female partner of a male patient starting treatment.
  • HCV-RNA or viral load test—This is used to confirm active infection and as a baseline test.
  • Genotype test—This test determines the strain of hepatitis C—there are seven genotypes. Genotype 1 is the most common followed by genotype 2 and 3.  Genotype information is used to determine what HCV treatment to take and for how long to take it.
  • Baseline tests—These include a variety of tests, such as a complete blood count (CBC), diabetes, thyroid and liver tests. Your general health will be assessed, especially if you are older than 40 or 50 years old or at risk for various medical problems.
  • Medical and dental procedures—In some cases, it may be a good idea to have any serious medical, and dental procedures completed well in advance prior to beginning HCV therapy. If the medical or dental procedure is not severe, you may be able to postpone it until after treatment, so your body has a chance to recover from treatment. Discuss this with your doctor.
  • Immunizations—You can be immunized while on treatment.
  • Anxiety—Current therapy can cause anxiety and though uncommon, depression. Talk with your medical provider if you are concerned about this. Medication can provides relief relatively quickly.

HCV treatment consists of pills. Talk to your medical provider about how and when to take them. Be prepared—ask your medical provider ahead of time if you miss a dose, when you should take the next dose. If you plan on traveling, make a copy of your prescriptions to take with you. 

You may have to use a specialty/mail order pharmacy, rather than a brick and mortar pharmacy like Walgreens or CVS. They both have similar services:

  • Specialty pharmacies ship to your home or office. With a regular pharmacy you control where and when to pick up the prescription.
  • Both can offer support services—nurses, websites and other services to help manage your therapy.
  • Both can remind you when to re-order or will automatically refill orders.

Side Effect Management
A favorable treatment outcome is associated with your ability to stay on the prescribed dose of medication for the entire duration of treatment.  In addition, completion of treatment goes hand in hand with good side effect management—this means treating the side effects before they become worse.

Treatment side effects are usually temporary and should gradually fade away after treatment is completed. This may take weeks or months; rarely up to a year.

The most common side effects of current therapy are fatigue, headache, nausea, diarrhea, and insomnia. However, it is important to know that not everyone has these particular side effects, and most people do not have severe side effects. In clinical trials for current therapies, less than 1% of individuals had side effects that required discontinuation of treatment.

Preparing Your Body
HCV treatment is a process that requires getting the mind and body ready and in shape. Alcohol, especially in large quantities, can accelerate HCV disease progression. Some insurance companies and medical providers are denying HCV treatment to people who consume alcohol and drugs, including medical marijuana. You may be required to abstain from alcohol and drugs for 6 months and attend a 12-step program. Talk to your medical provider about any concerns or questions.

Light to moderate exercise is recommended for most people with hepatitis C. Check in with your medical provider before starting any exercise program. Before beginning treatment, slowly build up to a comfortable level. There are many ways to get exercise such as walking, yoga, and dancing to name a few.

Birth Control
If ribavirin is part of HCV treatment: Women of childbearing age, their partners and female partners of male patients taking ribavirin must practice two forms of reliable contraception during to 6 months post-treatment

It is essential that pregnancy be avoided throughout treatment and for six months after treatment has ended. The guidelines are to use two reliable forms of birth control.  Reliable means using medically accepted contraceptive methods and using them correctly.  Whatever you choose, know how to use the method correctly.  Also, notice the word two.  This means that if you use two forms of birth control and one fails, then you have back-up protection.  If you or your partner needs information about birth control, talk to your medical provider or family planning center.

Pill Containers/ Calendars
It is important to remember to take the pills every day.  The makers of HCV drugs make it very easy, but no one is perfect.  Plan ahead—get a calendar.  Mark off the day when you take the pill(s).  This can be a great motivation to know that you have completed one day of treatment, and you can look forward to the end of treatment and hopefully a cure.

A Final Word
It is important to set a goal before treatment. Why do you want to be treated?  Write them down and refer to them while on treatment.  It is an excellent way to stay motivated. Just remember that, even though, the cure rates are very high not everyone can be cured at this time. Planning ahead and staying the course will give you the best opportunity to be cured, and that is really all you can do.

This article is reprinted from the May 1, 2015 HCV Advocate. Copyright 2015 with permission from the HCV Advocate and Alan Franciscus.