How to Stay Healthy When You're Newly Diagnosed with Hepatitis C

When you’re diagnosed with any new illness, you have to learn how to manage treatment and keep yourself as healthy as possible. That’s definitely the case with hepatitis C, an infection of the liver caused by the hepatitis C virus (HCV).

First, one key thing to remember: Hepatitis C is a disease that’s actually curable. The treatments that are currently used to treat Hepatitis C infections, which are called direct-acting antivirals, are more than 90% effective—and some put the cure rate between 95% and 99%.

“There are not that many diseases that we can say, ‘we will cure you in eight to 12 weeks,’” says Su Wang, MD, Su Wang, medical director for the Viral Hepatitis Programs at Cooperman Barnabas Medical Center and a former president of the board of directors of the World Hepatitis Alliance.

Here are some strategies you can embrace to stay as healthy as you can after receiving a hepatitis C diagnosis.

Talk to Your Doctor About Treatment

There’s not a vaccine for hepatitis C, but there are antiviral treatments with a very high cure rate. “In fact, it’s easier to cue than most other diseases,” says Omar Massoud, MD, Cleveland Clinic gastroenterologist with extensive experience in liver disease.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes, “Over 90% of people infected with hepatitis C virus (HCV) can be cured of their infection, regardless of HCV genotype, with eight to 12 weeks of oral therapy.”

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And you definitely want to get treated so you can clear the virus out of your system and prevent future damage from occurring to your liver. “Now is the time to get diagnosed, into care, and treated, because we know the longer you wait, the higher the chances of developing cirrhosis or liver cancer,” says Dr. Wang.

Get Screened for Hepatitis B

Hepatitis C isn’t the only kind of hepatitis that poses a threat to your liver. Hepatitis B can also cause inflammation that leads to extensive scarring or hardening of your liver, according to the Cleveland Clinic.

If you also have Hepatitis B, in addition to Hepatitis C, you need to be treated for that first, says Dr. Massoud. That’s why your doctor will likely screen you for Hepatitis B before starting your Hepatitis C treatment.

“When someone has Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C together, Hepatitis C will be dominant, and it will suppress the Hepatitis B,” he says. “If we treat the Hepatitis C, Hepatitis B will flare up and can cause liver failure.”

Get Vaccinated for Hepatitis B

Speaking of Hepatitis B, if you don’t have Hepatitis B and you haven’t already been vaccinated for Hepatitis B, now’s the time, says Dr. Wang.

Plus, the Hepatitis B vaccine regimen is a lot simpler than it used to be. In the past, you had to go in for three vaccines over the course of six months. Now, it’s just a two-shot series with one month spacing out the two shots, which translates into less time to forget or get off track.

Swap the Cocktails for Mocktails

If you savor a drink or two after work, it’s time to take a break from that habit. You’ll need to forego alcoholic beverages while you undergo treatment for Hepatitis C.

“The hepatitis C can be fixed with medications, but you don’t want alcohol to continue to destroy your liver,” explains Anurag Maheshwari, MD, who specializes in liver disease at the Melissa L. Posner Institute for Digestive & Liver Disease at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore.

After you’ve finished treatment and your doctor has confirmed that you’re cured and that your liver has returned to a normal state, you can drink alcohol again. But moderation is still a good idea, since alcohol use can cause liver damage over the long term.

Eat a Healthy Diet

Eating a healthy diet is good for a myriad of reasons, including keeping your liver as healthy as possible–and you definitely want to give your liver the best chance of success that you can.

Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is on the rise—Dr. Massoud refers to it as “the new epidemic”—and it also poses a threat to the health of your liver. What happens is that fat builds up in your liver. When it gets really severe, it can develop into an aggressive form called nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH). It causes inflammation that leads to cirrhosis, which can lead to liver failure.

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And while experts haven’t pinpointed an exact cause, they do know that fatty liver disease tends to be linked to obesity, high blood sugar levels, and high levels of fats in the blood, according to the Mayo Clinic. But eating a healthy diet that’s rich in fruits and vegetables, whole grains and healthy fats, getting regular exercise, and maintaining a healthy weight can help reduce your risk of developing NAFLD.

Don’t Skip Your Follow-up Visits With Your Doctor

Dr. Massoud stresses the importance of complying with your doctor’s recommendations for follow-up care after you undergo treatment for Hepatitis C. If your liver has sustained some changes from the infection, your doctor will want to monitor your liver.

People who’ve had a Hepatitis C infection for many years are more likely to have accrued some significant damage to their livers. They may need to visit their doctor for follow-up care for many years—or maybe even the rest of their lives, says Dr. Massoud.

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For many people, however, the treatment cures their infection, and their doctor can confirm that their liver is back to normal again. “Then you would go home and don’t need to come back,” he says. “But you don’t want to make that assumption yourself.”

Next up: What Is Hepatitis C and How Do You Get It? Expert Answers to Your Questions About This Curable Condition