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What are the Pros and Cons of Interferon for Hepatitis C?

By Melissa Barrett
Updated May 17, 2024
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Using interferon is often the only treatment option for people who have hepatitis C. Although it won't repair damage already done to the liver, interferon has the potential to completely eliminate the virus from the body. Those who show no signs of the hepatitis C virus after finishing treatment are considered cured of the disease. Among the negative aspects of using interferon for hepatitis C, though, are its low rate of success, the length of the treatments and a relatively high rate of side effects.

Hepatitis is medically defined as an inflammation of the liver. This swelling can result from many things, so it generally is defined by its cause. The diagnosis of hepatitis C is defined as swelling of liver caused by the hepatitis C virus.

Even though a patient is infected with hepatitis C, he or she might show no ill effects of the virus. If there is no damage to the liver and virus levels are low, there might be little benefit to be gained from interferon therapy. Often, close observation of virus levels in the blood might be the only medical intervention that is needed. When the hepatitis C virus levels become high enough to damage the liver or when liver damage has already occurred, the patient is often treated with interferon.

Interferon treatment is not free from problems. People using interferon for hepatitis C can become depressed by its relatively low success rate. Only about half of all patients will ever be diagnosed as cured. Often, this number is even lower in minority groups.

Compounding the negativity of a low success rate is a high rate of side effects. Fever, chills and muscle aches are common during treatment. Many individuals using interferon for hepatitis C report these flu-like symptoms to range from moderate to severe. Often, these symptoms reoccur frequently throughout the entirety of the treatment.

Using interferon for hepatitis C typically requires 24-48 weeks. During this time, individuals are required to receive weekly injections of the drug and are closely monitored. A number of patients do not finish treatment because of the extended length of the therapy and the high frequency of side effects.

Patients who have completed therapy without success or who have been unable tolerate the use of interferon for hepatitis C often find their treatment options limited. Eliminating alcohol consumption and medicines that affect the liver might slow the progression of the liver damage. In the worst cases, a liver transplant might be needed.

Alternative hepatitis treatments do exist. Licorice root and milk thistle are heavily praised by some hepatitis C patients. Claims of the effectiveness of these products are often anecdotal at best. As of early 2011, there were no medical studies proving the effectiveness of any alternative or herbal medicines in treating hepatitis C.

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