Liver Hepatitis C Treatment Side Effects

Hepatitis C treatment works to fight the hepatitis C virus and its effects. Antiviral drugs are a common initial treatment, and work to rid the body of the virus. In advanced cases that remain undiagnosed for years, liver transplant may be necessary for those who have sustained severe liver damage.

While these options may help the body get rid of the hepatitis C virus, they may also result in unpleasant treatment side effects.

Hepatitis Treatment Side Effects: Antiviral Drugs

An antiviral drug–such as alpha interferon, peginterferon and ribavirin–is an effective hepatitis C treatment in many cases. However, antiviral drugs are associated with a number of possible side effects, some of which can be severe:

  • Emotional symptoms: Some individuals may experience irritability or depression while taking antiviral drugs.
  • Flu-like symptoms: Common in the initial stages of treatment, these symptoms include fever, body aches, loss of appetite, nausea and fatigue.
  • Hematological (blood) effects: Interferon therapy can cause bone marrow suppression. Ribavirin can lead to reduced red blood cell count resulting in anemia, which presents with headache and fatigue. Rarely, changes in the blood can affect the heart, so individuals with angina (reduced blood flow to the heart) shouldn’t take ribavirin.
  • Immune responses: In some individuals, antivirals have a histamine-like effect on the body, much like an allergen. Symptoms of this reaction include rashes, itching and respiratory symptoms such as bronchitis, cough or nasal congestion.

Antiviral therapy can also result in a number of uncommon hepatitis treatment side effects, which affect less than 2 percent of patients receiving treatment, according to the National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse (2006). These rare treatment side effects include:

  • Autoimmune disease
  • Bacterial infection
  • Depression
  • Hearing loss
  • Retinopathy
  • Seizures.

Hepatitis Treatment Side Effects: Liver Transplant

In a liver transplant, a severely diseased or damaged liver is surgically removed and replaced with a healthy donor liver. A liver transplant may be necessary for advanced hepatitis C treatment.

After the transplant, recipients of donor organs may experience side effects. These are caused primarily by anti-rejection drugs, which are taken to stop the body from attacking and rejecting the new organ. These treatment side effects may include:

  • Fluid retention
  • Headache
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Nausea or diarrhea.

Managing Hepatitis Treatment Side Effects

Some treatment side effects can be managed with lifestyle changes or over-the-counter medications. For example, your doctor may recommend non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to manage flu-like symptoms like body aches.

Other treatment side effects, such as depression, may warrant a reduction in your medication dose or the length of your course of treatment. Inform your doctor of any treatment side effects and don’t change or stop taking any prescribed medications in your hepatitis C treatment regimen without first consulting your doctor.

Resources

American Liver Foundation. (2010). Liver transplant. Retrieved October 4, 2010, from http://www.liverfoundation.org/abouttheliver/info/transplant/.

National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse. (2006). Chronic hepatitis C: Current disease management. Retrieved October 4, 2010, from http://digestive.niddk.nih.gov/ddiseases/pubs/chronichepc/#g.

U.S. Department of Veterans’ Affairs. (2010). Hepatitis C: Side effects guide. Retrieved October 4, 2010, from http://www.hepatitis.va.gov/vahep?page=treat-05-00.