Many of those with hepatitis C are all too familiar with being so tired that you wonder how you are going to make it through the day. Fatigue is the most common symptom of hepatitis C. It is also the most common side effect of hepatitis C treatment.
For those who have never experienced relentless fatigue, it feels like crawling through sludge while wearing a hundred-pound pack. You are too weary to think, make decisions, relate to others, or do quality work. Even pleasurable activities are draining. There is no elegant way to put this—being tired sucks.
Well-meaning people would tell me that if I exercised, I’d have more energy. It may be true, but how was I going to exercise if I was too exhausted? That is like telling a double amputee that she would get around more if she only learned to walk. Hepatitis C-related fatigue is particularly insidious because your brain is foggy, and it is hard to think your way to a solution.
What to Do about Fatigue
Work with you medical provider to identify other factors that may adding to or causing your fatigue, beginning with a sleep assessment. Are you sleeping enough and going to bed at the same time every night? Do you have sleep apnea? Hepatitis C and sleep disturbances have been chronicled in a number of research studies. Some patients with liver disease experience a disruption of sleep patterns known as sleep reversal, which causes daytime fatigue.
Rule out other causes of fatigue, such as diseases, anemia, alcohol use, drugs (prescription and non-prescription), inactivity, allergies, obesity, stress, dehydration, depression, poor nutrition, pain, thyroid abnormalities, low testosterone or other hormone issues, diabetes, vitamin/mineral deficiency or excess especially too much iron, and so on. The list is virtually endless.
Since so many factors can cause fatigue, the dilemma is figuring out if the source is from hepatitis C, from something else, or from both. After years of weariness, I asked myself that question. It took a year of detective work, but I was able to figure out that my fatigue was not solely hepatitis C-related. After making changes, I was like the Energizer Turtle, not as peppy as the Energizer Bunny, but I could make it to the finish line, albeit slowly.
If lifestyle is contributing to your exhaustion, this is good news, because it means you can do something about it. However, be gentle with yourself. If you are tired, change can be overwhelming. Here are a few tips that worked for me:
Stop fighting fatigue. Wrestling with exhaustion uses up valuable mental energy.
Be positive even if you don’t feel like it. In a study of people with chronic fatigue, researchers noted that people often said, “I am tired.” The subjects were divided into two groups. One group was instructed not to do anything differently. The other group was instructed to substitute the phrase, “I am getting my energy back” every time they felt tired. People who told themselves they were getting their energy back reported significantly reduced fatigue.
Find a way to be more active. Yes, those well-meaning people were right—exercise is energizing. It was the last thing I wanted to hear, but when I became willing to try it, it worked.
Talk to Your Doctor about Hepatitis C Treatment. Treatment is getting better, easier, and shorter. Patients who are cured, report improved quality of life, more energy, and better sleep. I can testify to this. After 25 years and three treatments, I am now free from hepatitis C, and feeling like the Energizer Bunny.
This blog previously appeared at Every Day Health, March 27, 2014