Hepatitis C can be treated with a single, or combination of, medicines that stop the virus multiplying inside the body. Traditionally hepatitis C was treated with interferon (an injection) and ribavirin. New, all-oral medicines are now available for everyone and treatment is usually only for 8-12 weeks.
Using these latest medications, around 95% or more of people with hepatitis C will be cured. However, it's important to be aware that you won't be immune to the infection and should take steps to reduce your risk of becoming infected again.
If the infection is diagnosed in the early stages, known as acute hepatitis, treatment may not need to begin straight away. Instead, you may have another blood test after a few months to see if your body fights off the virus.
If the infection continues for several months, known as chronic hepatitis, treatment will usually be recommended.
Your treatment plan
Treatment for hepatitis C involves:
- making lifestyle changes to help prevent further damage to your liver and reduce the risk of spreading the infection
- taking medications to fight the virus
You'll normally need to take medication for 8-12 weeks. This length of time will depend on the exact medicines you're taking and which version (strain) of the hepatitis C virus you have. Your doctor will advise you about this.
There are 6 main strains of the virus. In the UK, the most common strains are known as "genotype 1" and "genotype 3".
During treatment, you should have blood tests to check if your medication is working. Using these latest medications, around 95% or more of people with hepatitis C will be cured.
There are some things you can do to help limit or even undo any damage to your liver and before you start treatment you can prevent the infection spreading to others. These can include:
- eating a healthy and balanced diet
- exercising regularly
- cutting out alcohol or limiting your intake
- stopping smoking
- keeping personal items, such as toothbrushes or razors, for your own use
- not sharing any needles or syringes with others
Read some FAQs about living with hepatitis C for more information.
Hepatitis C medications
Until relatively recently, treatment for chronic hepatitis C usually involved taking 2 main medicines:
- pegylated interferon
There are now a number of new medicines, called direct acting antivirals (DAA) that are always used to treat hepatitis C . DAA tablets are the safest and most effective medicines for treating hepatitis C.
These medications are taken as tablets once or twice a day, for between eight and 16 weeks, depending on the exact medicine you're taking, your hepatitis C genotype and the severity of your condition.
Some types of hepatitis C can be treated using more than 1 type of DAA.
NHS-approved hepatitis C medicines include:
- a combination of ledipasvir and sofosbuvir
- a combination of ombitasvir, paritaprevir and ritonavir, taken with or without dasabuvir
- a combination of sofosbuvir and velpatasvir
- a combination of sofosbuvir, velpatasvir and voxilaprevir
- a combination of glecaprevir and pibrentasvir
For more information on a particular drug, see the NICE guidelines on treating chronic hepatitis C
How effective is treatment?
The new medications now available cure more than 95% of all infections, across all genotypes and levels of disease progression.
If the virus is successfully cleared with treatment, it's important to be aware that you're not immune to the infection. This means, for example, that you could become infected again if you continue to inject drugs after treatment.
If treatment doesn't work, it may be repeated, extended or tried using a different combination of medicines.
Side effects of treatment
Treatments with direct acting antivirals (DAAs) have very few side effects. Most people find DAA tablets very easy to take.
You may feel a little sick and have trouble sleeping to begin with, but this should soon settle down.
Your nurse or doctor should be able to suggest things to help ease any discomfort.
You need to complete the full course of treatment to ensure you clear the hepatitis C virus from your body.
If you have any problems with your medicines, speak to your doctor or nurse straight away.
Side effects for each type of treatment can vary from person to person.
For a very small number of people, more severe side effects from hepatitis C treatments may include:
Hepatitis C medications may have unpredictable reactions when taken with other medicines or remedies. Always check with your specialist, GP or pharmacist before taking other types of medication.
Any side effects may improve with time as your body gets used to the medications. Tell your care team if any side effect is becoming particularly troublesome.
Treatment during pregnancy
The medications used to treat hepatitis C, particularly ribavirin, can be harmful to unborn babies and aren't normally used during pregnancy.
If you're pregnant when diagnosed with the infection, treatment will usually be delayed until you have given birth. Otherwise, you'll be advised to use contraception throughout your treatment and you may need to have regular pregnancy tests.
If you're a man taking ribavirin, you shouldn't have sex with a pregnant women unless you use a condom. If your partner isn't pregnant, you should ensure contraception is used during the course of your treatment and your partner may need to have regular pregnancy tests.
Deciding against treatment
Some people with chronic hepatitis C decide against treatment. This may be because they:
- don't have any symptoms
- are willing to live with the risk of cirrhosis at a later date
- don't feel the potential benefits of treatment outweigh the side effects treatment can cause
Your care team can give you advice about this, but the final decision about treatment will be yours.
If you decide not to have treatment but then change your mind, you can ask to be treated at any point.