By Christine Kukka
Your daily antiviral pill can save your life when you have liver damage from chronic hepatitis B. Entecavir or tenofovir (Viread) quickly reduce the amount of virus in your liver and the damage it causes.
All you have to do is take it. Every day. But 20 to 30 percent of prescriptions are never filled, and about 50 to 70 percent of us don’t take our medications as prescribed. When we stop taking our daily antiviral, hepatitis B can reactivate and threaten our health.
In one study, researchers provided 100 hepatitis B patients with an entecavir pill dispenser that monitored whether or not they took their daily pill over a 16-week period. They found about 70 percent of patients took their antiviral pill as prescribed more than 80 percent of the time — which means these patients were “medication compliant.”
Those who missed taking their antivirals more than 20 percent of the time–and were “noncompliant”–tended to be younger and had indifferent attitudes about whether or not the antiviral was really needed or would work.
According to experts, whether we are “medication compliant” or not depends on how much trust we have in our doctors. If we like our healthcare provider and feel comfortable asking questions, we’re much more likely to take our medication on time. And, if our friends and family support and encourage us, we’re even more inclined to take our medication as prescribed.
“The trust I have in my doctor is a big factor,” said a member of the Hepatitis B Support List. “It is important to find a doctor who understands hepatitis B and is willing to work with me in terms of explaining what the options are and what the best approach is in managing my condition.”
“I know antivirals won’t cure me,” another email list member wrote, “but I’m committed to staying healthy and productive as long as God permits.”However, people need more than good intentions. Often, we don’t have the money to pay for our antivirals. We may have lost our insurance or the drug maker or insurer may suddenly jack up the price. We may not know how to apply for prescription assistance or ask our doctors for help. It is important to research insurance drug plans and also talk to our doctors about prescription assistance plans.
An estimated 15 to 25 percent of us with chronic hepatitis B may die from liver damage. Hepatitis B is a real threat and if we need to ask for help and develop some strategies to make sure we don’t forget our daily dose. Here are some suggestions:
- Develop a tool or a “prompt” to help you remember to take your pill. Try a day-of-the-week pill box so you can check if you can’t remember if you took your pill. If you’re tech-savvy, set up a reminder app on your smart phone.
- Take your pill at the same time every day, such as with a specific meal time or at bed time, or with other medications you already take. One hepatitis B list member reports she takes her pill with breakfast. If she forgets, she still has the rest of the day to remember and take her daily med.
- Make sure you understand your doctor’s prescribing instructions. Confused? Make the provider or your pharmacist put it in writing if you have difficulty remembering.
- If you aren’t taking your antiviral regularly because you don’t think you need it or fear it won’t help you, talk to your doctor. Studies show antivirals are very effective at reducing your viral load quickly.
- Stick with it. Studies show medication compliance suffers after the first six months of taking a medication. Keep taking your antiviral, they only work for as long as you take them.