Congratulations! You have completed 6 months of treatment for your hepatitis C. Hopefully you have adjusted to the medication side effects, and have made it a habit to take your medicines at the right time.
Although you are probably used to the side effects, you should still tell your healthcare providers about any side effects you are having, or anything that may be different than what you've experienced before. Remember, you and your healthcare providers are working together as a team.
Looking at how far you have come will help you prepare yourself for the next phase of the study. You have passed through Stages 1, 2, and 3, and are now ready to begin Stage 4. We'll call this stage the CONTROL stage.
During this time, your healthcare provider will test your blood to see if the hepatitis C virus has been cleared from your blood. Your provider will call you within a couple of weeks of the test to discuss the test results with you. If your body has responded to therapy and no virus can be detected, you will take the medications for another six months to control the response -- making sure that the virus has been completely removed from your blood.
On the other hand, if the amount of the hepatitis C virus in your blood has not decreased enough, you may not be responding to treatment. If this is the case, your healthcare provider will stop your therapy because it doesn't seem to be working for you. Even if you are no longer taking the medicines, you will still need to return for follow-up study visits for the next 12 months. This will help your healthcare providers understand more about why you didn't respond to treatment, and may someday help others who find themselves in a similar situation.
If you HAVE responded to therapy, it will be important to stay motivated in the upcoming months. Some people find this to be the toughest part of the treatment. They may start thinking that since the virus isn't found in their blood anymore, missing a couple of doses here and there won't matter. This is NOT true. The reason that you take the medicines for a full year is because other studies have shown that if you stop at 6 months, there is a higher chance that the virus will return.
There may be times when you think about skipping a dose of medication because you simply DON'T feel like having a shot or taking pills. But please remember that the virus doesn't take a break, and can continue to multiply and cause problems in your liver if there's not enough medication in your body. Missing doses will make it more difficult to control the virus, so continue taking your medications exactly as prescribed unless your healthcare provider tells you otherwise.
Keep up the good work as you begin Stage 4, and remember, "Don't count the days, make every day count."