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15 Tips for Managing Interferon-Ribavirin Side Effects

Nicole Cutler L.Ac. May 13, 2008

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Many people abandon this challenging HCV treatment mid-course. Here are 15 ways to help manage the side effects of Hepatitis C combination therapy, to help patients’ likelihood of completing the extremely challenging treatment. Share this article among patients contemplating and/or already undergoing chemotherapy for Hepatitis C, so they can help increase their likelihood of conquering the virus.

Although it affects an estimated four to five million Americans, there is still no easy formula to eliminate the Hepatitis C virus (HCV). At best, infected individuals have a 50 percent chance of triumphing over the virus by enduring standard combination therapy, a notoriously challenging treatment with pegylated interferon and ribavirin medications. Most experts believe that the success rate of these drugs would be much higher without the burden of their potentially serious side effects. In cooperation with a physician, those with HCV who can manage standard combination therapy’s side effects are more likely to complete the drug regimen at full strength – and thus have a better chance of ridding the virus from their body.

Especially apparent in the first several weeks of treatment, the side effects of these drugs range from mild to severe. Managing these effects can be simple, involving lifestyle modifications, logical home remedies and taking some routine medications. Beyond these basics, working with a knowledgeable physician is important for customizing a plan to help someone manage their side effects.

The side effects from interferon and ribavirin therapy often lead to lowered dosages or even discontinuation of these drugs. Physicians agree that the more a dosage is reduced, the less of a chance the therapy has at successfully killing HCV. However, dose reduction or discontinuation of interferon or ribavirin may be indicated immediately if severe side effects develop.

Fifteen suggestions to discuss with your physician for managing the most common side effects of combination therapy are outlined below:

  1. Getting a full night’s sleep helps the body recover from physical and emotional stressors. Being fully rested lessens the side effects of fatigue, headache, fever, myalgia (muscle pain), irritability and insomnia.
  2. Keeping hydrated is helpful to counteract the drying properties of combination therapy. Keeping hydrated is advised to improve fatigue, headache, fever, myalgia and dry mouth.
  3. Eating well-balanced meals helps the body bounce back from fatigue, headache, fever and myalgia.
  4. Engaging in regular exercise keeps your circulation going and thus helps prevent fatigue, headache, fever and myalgia.
  5. Taking a hot bath or using hot packs is recognized for helping relieve myalgia.
  6. Taking acetaminophen (Tylenol) or NSAIDS can reduce fatigue, headaches, fever, myalgias or liver pain. However, dosage and safety considerations must be confirmed by your doctor since these drugs may place an additional burden on the liver.
  7. Include ginger in your day by drinking it in tea, ale or snacking on ginger baked goods to relieve nausea.
  8. Taking ribavirin with food and eating small, frequent meals helps ease ribavirin-related nausea.
  9. Prochlorperazine (compazine) may stop nausea but should only be done under a physician’s guidance.
  10. Avoiding stimulants like caffeine at night can reduce insomnia and irritability.
  11. Practicing relaxation techniques, such as taking a deep breath and counting to ten, can significantly help reduce irritability.
  12. Taking selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) have been proven effective in treating the depression associated with interferon therapy for certain individuals. The additional side effects of SSRIs and treatment guidelines must be carefully evaluated by your physician.
  13. Sharing feelings with friends, family or a support group can help many people cope with the irritability and depression often accompanying HCV therapy.
  14. Being gentle with your hair can help minimize hair loss. This includes not pulling on or braiding the hair, avoiding vigorous combing or brushing and only using natural (not harsh) hair products.
  15. Avoiding hot or spicy foods minimizes mouth irritation. For those dealing with the side effects of a dry mouth or mouth sores, avoiding these types of foods is a must.

Some of these tips for managing side effects are easily accomplished at home while others require collaboration with your physician. However it is accomplished, reducing side effect severity helps people endure a full course of combination therapy, a feat that increases their odds of eliminating the Hepatitis C virus.

References:

www.clevelandclinic.org, Managing Side Effects of Hepatitis C Treatment, The Cleveland Clinic Department of Patient Education and Health Information, 2008.

www.hepatitis.va.gov, Clinical Manual: Interferon and Ribavirin Treatment Side Effects, United States Department of Veteran Affairs, 2008.

www.hepcawareness.net.au, Treatment Side Effects, Australian Hepatitis Council, 2008.

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HepatitisCentral.com provides information regarding hepatitis and liver disease. Comments are available to the community in order to discuss these topics and obtain answers to questions through community members. The Editors at HepatitisCentral.com will not be responding to questions or comments posed in article comments.

  • Jenn0273

    smoking/eating pot has almost completely ELIMINATED my husbands symptoms. It works. Don’t suffer for nothing. He was on the floor shaking and fevering and throwing up 20 min later we were laughing and goofing around. He would never make it 24 weeks without it.

  • kristina

    my husband has low abnormal red and white blood counts, the doctors are keeping eye on him done tests on liver stomach kidneys, they aparently look fine, but that what chris would tell me, i need answers from people to help me understand symptoms of this nature and is there a way i can help him, im desperate to get through this with him. but my husband is in jail and i can only help through the net and ask people that live and experience hep c and interfuron. pls help me..

  • Ab in AZ

    Although my dr has said that vitamin supplements would not help with my counts, I have had an increase in both red and white cells with iron glycinate and B12. I was on the verge of a transfusion with red cell counts as low as 2 and white cell counts as low as 1.4. My red count is up to 3.8 and whites are at 2.6. I still have nausea but my energy level has increased significantly. I am on week 31 of treatment with no virus detectable for four months.

  • kris

    I am going through the interferon now this is my third time it can be very exhausting I will go out do things during the day and come home and crash and I do get to the point I hurt and just don’t feel like doing anything and I do have my ups and downs with emotions I have also have been in the hospital due to being anemic it really suxs

  • kris

    I’m on the interferon right now I do have a lot of pain I have become anemic I have back pains side pains I have diarrhea I have thrown up quite abit I go do things during the day and come home and crash cause just the little things I do male me tired I hope ur husband is okay