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Choosing treatment

There are a huge range of things you can do about your hepatitis C. Those that loosely involve making lifestyle changes are covered by our in the 'Living with Hep C' section of this site. It is also worth looking at is the section on mental and emotional attitude which discusses current conventional treatment.

Over the years many people living with hepatitis C have treated their condition with alternative medicine, partly because of the lack of effectiveness and often difficult side effects of interferon. As treatments become ever more effective, shorter and more tolerable and interferon is used less and less, the use of alternative medicine is likely to decrease. For the moment, however, most people will be offered a conventional treatment that incorporates some interferon. For many the choice will therefore be to do treatment now or to wait for interferon-free treatment in the next few years. But some may still see the choice now as between conventional and alternative treatments.

Making that choice can be difficult, particularly as there is so little evidence to support the effectiveness of alternative therapies. The reason evidence exists for the use of drugs like interferon, ribavirin and the new direct acting anti-viral drugs is because they have been licensed by the Government. This licence can only be obtained on the basis of scientific evidence supporting their effectiveness and safety which has been collected from controlled trials. Alternative therapies do not have to go through this process and so scientific evidence of their effectiveness is much rarer.

The fact that there is little evidence supporting the use of alternative treatments does not mean that they do not work. There have been definite cases of people clearing hepatitis C while taking alternative therapies. Notably these include Chinese medicine, western herbs and supplements. However, the number of people reporting the benefits of these therapies is small and it is not clear if the results were entirely due to those treatments, since a few people do clear their chronic hepatitis C spontaneously apparently without taking any specific remedy. It is also true that people frequently try several alternative remedies at the same time and it appears that what works for some people does not necessarily work for others, but this also applies to conventional drug treatment.

One approach is to first of all decide exactly what your priority is. Clearing the virus now is not necessarily the most important goal for everyone.

Some may want to:

  • be free from any of the effects of hepatitis C
  • address particular symptoms
  • just keep the virus in check
  • improve their overall quality of life

Once you have decided, you then have to consider what you are prepared to pay, in terms of time, money, discomfort and risk.

If your main priority is to clear the virus as soon as possible, then there is no question that conventional treatment offers you the best chance of doing so. Even if you are sceptical of the figures (taken from drug company-sponsored trials), it is difficult to dispute the fact that large numbers of people who have taken this treatment now have no detectable trace of the virus in their systems. This is particularly true of those with genotypes 2 or 3, and now increasingly genotype 1 as well. Drug treatment, however, does often have certain side-effects which are discussed in the section entitled ‘Considering Treatment'.

If it is not your main priority to try and clear the virus immediately, there are many alternative treatments available. You can read about these alternatives and also about diet, herbs and lots more in the Wellness section.

Although alternative treatments can be expensive, there may also be costs involved in taking conventional treatment. In the UK the treatment is free on the NHS, although you may have to pay prescription charges depending on your CCG's policy. If you have to pay for your prescriptions, see below for information on reducing the costs.

Prescription costs:

Some people are entitled to free prescriptions due to their age, income, medical condition or where they live. You are eligible for free prescriptions if you are:

  • living in Northern Ireland, Scotland or Wales
  • 60 or over
  • under 16
  • aged between 16-18 and in full-time education
  • disabled
  • living with a long-term medical condition such as diabetes or epilepsy
  • having treatment for cancer
  • on income support, or your partner is

To find out if you’re eligible for free prescriptions, check with your doctor or read our information on help with health costs.

Cheaper prescriptions

Even if you are not eligible for free prescriptions, there are ways of keeping the cost down.

If you have regular prescriptions (more than one a month), it might work out cheaper for you to buy a prescription prepayment certificate (PPC). A PPC is a kind of session ticket. It covers you for all of your own NHS prescription charges, no matter how many items you need.

You can buy a prescription prepayment certificate (PPC) online.

Alternatively, phone 0845 850 0030 or fill in form FP95, which you can get from your pharmacy.