This week’s book excerpt is from my first book, Free from Hepatitis C. This selection was adapted from chapter 4, “How to Prepare for and Begin Hepatitis C Treatment.”
Talking to your medical provider is a great way to get information about hepatitis C treatment. A good doctor or nurse should welcome your questions. Nevertheless, even if you see the most receptive physician there is, office visits last only a certain amount of time. You can use your time more effectively if you write down your questions and prioritize them before your appointment. At the beginning of the visit, tell your provider that you have a list of questions that you’d like to ask. Doing so should allow her to manage the time accordingly. If you still have questions by the end of the visit, ask your provider to suggest a way to have them answered outside the office.
Here are some issues you may want to discuss before starting hepatitis C treatment:
- Antidepressants. Be sure to tell your provider if you take antidepressants or have a history of depression. As HCV medication can cause depression, some physicians recommend a psychiatric consultation prior to starting treatment. If you are not already taking an antidepressant, one may be prescribed for you. Most antidepressants take two to four weeks to become effective, but some take six to eight weeks. Besides depression, antidepressants may help alleviate treatment-induced side effects such as fatigue, anxiety, insomnia, and pain. They may also, however, produce their own side effects, including decreased libido, or sex drive. There are many antidepressants from which to choose, so discuss them with your medical provider. Finally, never take any over-the-counter dietary supplement for depression without talking to your doctor first.
- Birth Control. If there is even a remote possibility of pregnancy, be sure you are protected. This also applies to female partners of men on HCV treatment.
- Dietary Supplements. If you presently take any supplements, or wish to take a supplement to alleviate a side effect of treatment, discuss the matter with your doctor, who may prohibit the use of certain substances during HCV therapy. For example, St. John’s wort, which some people use as an antidepressant, should never be combined with certain hepatitis C drugs. Some doctors, however, recommend taking iron-free multivitamins, calcium, and vitamin B and D supplements during treatment.
- Emergencies. Find out which reactions your medical provider considers emergencies, and how you might reach her if an emergency arises when the office is closed.
- Length of Treatment. How long will your treatment last?
- Medical Procedures. If you have an upcoming medical or dental procedure planned, check with your doctor to see if it is advisable to undergo before or during HCV treatment.
- Medication. Take note of the names and dosages of your prescribed drugs, the methods of administering them, and the estimated length of treatment. Ask if you will receive prefilled syringes or another type of delivery system, and see if you can get a starter kit at your doctor’s office. Otherwise, get one from the pharmaceutical company.
- Schedules. Inquire about the schedule of regular medical appointments, lab tests, and pregnancy tests.
- Side Effect Management. Ask your physician if it is safe to take over-the-counter drugs such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) for your flu-like side effects. If it is, be sure to learn how often you can take them, as well as their recommended dosages.
- Support. If you have non-emergency questions or issues that you would like addressed in between appointments, ask your doctor what the best way to handle them might be. Find out if there are any HCV support groups in your community.
Hepatitis C treatment may feel overwhelming at times, particularly since it is uncharted territory. At first, it will sound as though your health practitioner is speaking a foreign language. If you can, take notes during your office visit and bring along a trusted friend or family member. Studies show that no matter how hard patients try, they don’t accurately hear all the information their medical providers give them. An extra set of ears can compensate for this problem. If your doctor allows it, you might even record your appointment. It is your medical provider’s job to keep you safe, but she cannot do her job if you don’t talk to her. Always keep in mind that small problems are easier to handle than big problems. Discuss your concerns before they get out of hand.
Some pharmaceutical companies offer starter kits for their drugs. The starter kit I received had an informative video, cooler, pill organizer, band-aids, a container for used needles, and other helpful items.