If you have hepatitis C, you probably have many questions. One of the biggest might be, “Can I be cured?” Thanks to new drugs, the answer is probably yes. But to get there you need to work closely with your doctor for quite a while.
Building an open, honest relationship and asking intelligent questions are key to your success.
Assemble the right team first.
Ask your GP if they usually treat people with Hep C. If the answer is no, they will likely refer you to a liver doctor (hepatologist), an infectious disease specialist, or both. These doctors regularly treat people with the virus, are familiar with the latest medications, and can anticipate complications, says Alexea Gaffney-Adams, MD, an infectious disease expert in Smithtown, NY.
“The doctor won’t answer your questions if you don’t ask them,” says Bob Rice of Boston, who recovered from Hep C in 2015.
Think about questions before your appointment and write them down. That way you don’t forget to ask something important.
You might want to find out the following:
What is my genotype? That’s the kind of Hep C you have. there are six Your doctor will create a treatment plan based on your genotype and other health issues you have.
How high is my viral load? This tells you how much virus is in your blood. If you decide to treat your Hep C, you will be tested during and after your treatment to see if this number drops to an undetectable level and stays there.
Is my liver damaged? It could be. Your doctor will likely do blood tests and order special scans of your liver. You may even need a biopsy. This is a test that takes a sample of liver tissue to see if there is any damage.
How can I protect my liver? Your doctor will likely tell you to go easy on the alcohol or stop altogether. They may also tell you to use little or no acetaminophen. Inform them of all medications and supplements you are taking. They may need to adjust some doses, and they may tell you to stop taking some things.
Eating a healthy diet and losing weight – if necessary – can also help. Ask if you need to be vaccinated against hepatitis A and B.
Perhaps you would like to bring a loved one with you to your appointments. They can act as a second pair of ears to remember what the doctor said. Ask them to take notes too.
If your doctor thinks you recently got the virus, they can follow you for 6 months to see if it goes away, says Gaffney-Adams. About 15% to 25% of people are able to eliminate a so-called acute infection themselves.
But if it’s chronic (long-lasting), your doctor may recommend treatment. Your plan will depend on your previous test results and other health conditions you have.
Questions to ask your doctor include:
What medication should I take? There are a few. Your doctor will tell you which one is best for your hepatitis. You may only be able to take one pill a day.
Will it be successful? Ask the numbers, says Las Vegas resident Stella Armstrong, who was cured of Hep C in 2014. Ask, “What are the statistics that this treatment will cure me?” In general, today’s medications cure at least 90% of people.
How long will the treatment take? It depends on your situation and what medications you are taking. It may only last 2 or 3 months. You must take the medication exactly as prescribed or it may not work. Make sure you understand what to do.
Keep all your appointments and have any tests or lab work your doctor orders.
What are the side effects? Find out about the probable and the rare problems. Ask which ones you need to see a doctor for and which ones you need to go to the emergency room for, Gaffney-Adams said.
Common side effects are mild and include upset stomach and diarrhea. But call your doctor if you:
Share any symptoms or side effects you have, even if you are not sure if they are related to your hepatitis C or your treatment. Your doctor needs to know what’s going on to give you the best treatment.
If you have any doubts about your treatment plan, say so right away. Your doctor may be able to explain it to you better and put your mind at ease. If you’re still concerned, ask if there’s anything else you can try.
“You are your own… advocate, and you must say it [the doctors] what you want,” says Armstrong. If you have symptoms that worry you and want to have certain tests done, press the doctor to order them, she adds.
It’s also important to be honest with your doctor about your lifestyle choices. If you drink or do drugs, you need to say so, even though you may feel embarrassed. The treatment could hurt you if you use drugs or alcohol. Or your medicine may not work as well.
“You should feel open enough that you can talk to your doctor about just about anything,” says Rice.
“If you don’t feel comfortable with your doctor, find another doctor.”