Chronic hepatitis C is a condition that can lead to more and more liver damage over time. However, everyone's situation is a little different. So, before treatment is recommended, your healthcare provider will review the results of your blood work and other tests to find out several things, including:
* The amount of virus in your body, and its genotype,
* How much liver damage has already happened, and
* Any other medical conditions you may have.
Then together, you and your healthcare provider can decide what treatment, if any, is best for you.
Hepatitis C is currently treated by using drugs called "peginterferon" and "ribavirin." Peginterferon can be used by itself, or with ribavirin. Using these drugs together is called "combination therapy." Peginterferon is given by injection and ribavirin is a pill.
The goal of the treatment medications is to get rid of the hepatitis C virus completely -- this is also called 'clearing the virus.' By clearing the virus, you may be able to bring down the swelling of the liver, stop the scarring and fibrosis, and possibly reverse some of the liver damage caused by hepatitis C. It may also bring down the long-term risk of liver cancer.
Studies have shown that by taking combination therapy, between 40 and 80 percent of the patients have a successful response to treatment -- called a "sustained virological response," or "SVR." A sustained response means that no hepatitis C virus RNA can be detected in your blood six months after finishing the treatment.
It's important to know that there are several factors that can affect a response to treatment. An important factor is the genotype of the virus causing your hepatitis C. People with genotype 1 generally respond less well to combination therapy than people with other genotypes. On average, up to 50 percent of people with genotype 1 will have a sustained response to treatment. In comparison, the rate of successful treatment for people with OTHER genotypes is about 75 to 80 percent.
Other factors beside genotype will also affect the success of your treatment. These include: the amount of virus in your body, how long you have had the virus, and the amount of damage already done to your liver.
People with a low level of virus, and those with very little scarring on the liver before treatment begins tend to respond better to treatment. Because every situation is different, your response to treatment for hepatitis C will depend on several of these factors.