Comprehensive review of hepatitis C for psychiatrists: Risks, screening, diagnosis, treatment, and interferon-based therapy complications

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date



Journal of Psychiatric Practice








Course; Hepatitis C; Interferon-alfa therapy; Neuropsychiatric complications; Neuropsychiatric side effects; Psychiatric disorders; Quality of life; Screening; Substance use disorders; Transmission


Hepatitis C is an RNA virus responsible for chronic infection in at least 4 million Americans. Patients are often unaware that they have contracted the virus until the appearance of long-term consequences of the infection, primarily cirrhosis and hepatocellular carcinoma. Many patients with hepatitis C have comorbid psychiatric and/or substance abuse disorders. Treatments for hepatitis C infection are based on interferon-alfa therapy and have shown increasing effectiveness in recent years; however, interferon-alfa therapy also poses significant risks for physical and neuropsychiatric side effects. Since psychiatrists often serve as primary caregivers for patients who are at higher risk for hepatitis C infection, knowledge about the diagnosis, prognosis, and treatment of this disease is needed. In the first half of this article, the authors review the epidemiology, transmission, pathophysiology and disease course of hepatitis C, as well as the neuropsychiatric complications of hepatitis C infection. They also discuss the incidence of comorbid psychiatric disorders in patients with hepatitis C infection and consider the impact of the infection on patients' quality of life. The authors then provide an overview of the clinical management of HCV infection, including screening procedures, decision-making about treatment, available treatments (interferon-alfa, pegylated interferon-alpha, combination therapy with interferon and ribavirin) and their side effects and potential drug-drug interactions, and prediction of treatment response. The authors then discuss management of the neuropsychiatric complications of treatment with interferon-alpha and ribavirin, including depression, mania and psychosis, and cognitive and neurological complications. The final section of the article focuses on special issues related to the treatment of hepatitis C infection in patients with substance abuse or dependence and/or other comorbid psychiatric illness.

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