Living With Hepatitis C and Stress
A recent hepatitis C-related post to the Hep Forums tugged at my heart. The person had completed treatment using Harvoni and was having problems. I'll refer to this person as a friend. The friend reported multiple health problems, such as insomnia, high cholesterol, and ringing in ears. Our friend was quite worried about the cholesterol, and started taking daily aspirin over fear of having a heart attack. This friend felt anxious, depressed, isolated and useless.
This person is pretty convinced that Harvoni caused this. What do you think?
I'm not so sure. My guess is that our friend may have had some side effects from Harvoni, such as insomnia and perhaps the tinnitus (although tinnitus is very common and 20 percent of us are going to get this as we age). There are few things more maddening than insomnia and tinnitus. I think the Dalai Lama might even consider smoking dope if he had bad insomnia and ringing in the ears. Here's the thing about insomnia -- once it starts, even if the thing that caused it is removed, insomnia can become a pattern. Just like a bad habit, you have to learn how to sleep better.
As for tinnitus, music and white noise can help, but ultimately, it just has to be accepted. It usually doesn't go away. In this case, it might get worse because aspirin is the wrong thing to take when you have ringing in the ears.
So, back to our friend. This person was drinking for a bit, but stopped. The Forum posts showed that our friend was on the computer in the middle of the night, which is a just about the worst thing you can do if you have a sleep problem. The light from computer screens and handheld devices interferes with the brain's sleep-wake cycle. The sleep-wake cycle is a delicate mechanism, and it doesn't take much to mess it up.
The reason the person was drinking was from fear that the high cholesterol would cause a heart attack. Apparently, our friend didn't realize that it is extremely common for people with hepatitis C to have low or normal cholesterol, get cured of hep C, and then have high cholesterol. One possible explanation is that hep C interferes with cholesterol production. Without fear of a cholesterol problem, people eat whatever they want. When hep C is gone, so is the cholesterol suppression.
Our friend's cholesterol was not dangerously high. It likely could be reduced with lifestyle changes. As for the daily aspirin, this is not advised unless medically recommended.
The bottom line is that sometimes we act as if we know more than doctors do. We search the internet, self-diagnose, and self-prescribe. But, here is what I've noticed about myself and others:
- I may think I know myself, but that may not be true, and it certainly doesn't give me the license to practice medicine, even on myself.
- When we aren't well, we get anxious and stressed. This is normal. If stress continues too long, our health may get worse.
- Fighting health problems can make matters worse. This is especially true for insomnia and tinnitus. I needed help for these problems.
- Taking action to be healthy is hard work. This is especially true when we don't feel well because it means challenging ourselves when we are at our weakest.
Thinking about our friend, I recall those times when I was anxious, could not sleep, and didn't trust doctors. The thought of exercise was foreign to me. Well-meaning friends suggested meditation, but I probably would have more success with learning how to swallow a sword than to sit still on a pillow. Eventually I got desperate enough to try meditation and exercise for a few minutes at a time. Those minutes grew into a regular practice.
Meditation is more than just a stress reduction tool; it is a tool for a health. In a recent study published in Clinical and Translational Gastroenterology, researchers reported that meditation-based practices can improve quality of life in patients with cirrhosis. It also can help our caregivers. In this study, couples were taught a technique known as mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR). Couples participated in four 1-hour group therapy sessions, and had improved health outcomes in just one month.
The cool thing about meditation is that there are no negative side effects. Yes, it is boring and your derrière muscles might get sore. Sitting and listening to your thoughts run around like squirrels on speed, can be irritating. However, in time, it pays off. Meditation costs nothing and the potential benefits are enormous.
Returning to our friend, the question is, would meditation help? Very likely. Meditation isn't a cure, but it is a powerful tool to help us manage stress, sleep, pain, and symptoms from chronic illness. It's a low risk-high benefit option available to all of us.
Hep Forums: https://forums.hepmag.com.
Lucinda K. Porter, R.N., is a long-time contributor to the HCV Advocate and author of "Free from Hepatitis C" and "Hepatitis C One Step at a Time." She blogs at www.LucindaPorterRN.com and HepMag.com.
[Note from TheBody.com: This article was originally published by HCV Advocate in Nov. 2017. We have cross-posted it with their permission.]