Side effects from hepatitis C medications are enough to make patients think twice before undergoing treatment. These side effects vary, both in type and intensity. Fatigue, anxiety, depression, insomnia, anemia, and headache are some of the more common complaints.
However, occasionally side effects come along that surprise everyone because they aren’t unwanted problems. A classic example is minoxidil. This drug was tested to treat hypertension, and in clinical trials balding patients reported that they were growing hair. Repackaged as Rogaine, minoxidal is now a popular over-the-counter drug.
Other drugs have potential benefits beyond their original application. A study by Jacob Udell of Women’s College Hospital in Toronto, found that getting a flu shot may cut stroke and heart attack risk. Cholesterol-lowering drugs known as statins are another group of drugs that have a potential bonus. Danish researcher Stig Bojesen at the University of Copenhagen reported a 15% reduction in risk of death in cancer patients undergoing treatment while taking statins.
As for hepatitis C drugs, the unintended benefits are anecdotal, and until there is clear evidence, I can’t back up my claims with research. I know of two patients who reported that ribavirin was an aphrodisiac. One pleaded with his nurse to let him stay on ribavirin after he completed his treatment.
I know two patients on hepatitis C treatment that cleared a skin condition known as granuloma annulare. In these cases it could have been the resolution of hepatitis C rather than the medications that caused the skin condition to heal. However, in both cases, the patients did not respond to hepatitis C treatment but the skin condition did not return.
Another example of a side effect bringing benefit rather than merely creating problems came from a patient I worked with who had very thick hair. Interferon caused her hair to thin, and she is the only patient I know who liked this side effect. She told me it was the first time in her life she could manage her hair, and wished she could keep this side effect.
New hepatitis C medications are now on the market. If you are taking Sovaldi or Olysio, and notice any benefits, I’d like to hear from you. I realize that side effects can make life difficult, or even unbearable, but I am always looking for a silver lining, especially during hepatitis C treatment.