Hepatitis B is a viral infection that can cause damage and inflammation to the liver. Without treatment, the inflammation can affect other body tissues and damage other organs. Hepatitis B can lead to chronic or acute infections and in some cases spread to other humans. The two different forms of hepatitis B include:
- Acute Hepatitis B – The short-term infection produces symptoms that last for weeks or months at a time. In most cases, the body has the capacity to fight off the dangerous infection until the virus leaves the body. Many healthy children five years and older and adults suffering from an acute case of hepatitis B viral inflammation get better without ever receiving treatment.
- Chronic Hepatitis B – This long-term infection develops when the body lacks the capacity to fight off the ravaging effects of the virus that will not go away. Typically, individuals who develop chronic hepatitis B suffered an infection from the virus when they were young. Ninety percent of hepatitis B cases involving infants develop into chronic infections. Only five percent of all cases of chronic hepatitis B affect adults.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that approximately 850,000 to 2 million individuals in the United States are suffering from chronic hepatitis B. This number has dropped dramatically in recent years since hepatitis B vaccination was made available in 1991.
- Who Is at Risk for Hepatitis B?
- Screening Is Important
- Common Symptoms
- Diagnosing Hepatitis B
- Treating Hepatitis B
Who Is at Risk for Hepatitis B?
Some ethnic groups are more likely to develop chronic cases of hepatitis B than others, including African-Americans and Asian Americans. Many of these individuals developed a chronic condition before the vaccination was made available in the US. Individuals greatest risk for acquiring appetite is B virus are those born to a mother who is also affected with the viral infection. This is because the virus easily spreads from the mother to the newborn during the birthing process. The greatest number of individuals around the world and develop hepatitis B are those who:
- Were born in developing global regions where hepatitis B cases are common
- Were born in America but never received the hepatitis B vaccination when they were an adult
In America, up to 95 percent of all individuals who suffer from chronic hepatitis B were born elsewhere in areas of the world were cases involving hepatitis B are common. The remainder of individuals in the US with hepatitis B are those who:
- Are living with or are having sex with an individual affected with hepatitis B
- Have been infected with the HIV virus because it spreads in similar ways to hepatitis B
- Have had multiple sexual partners in the last six months
- Have a history of acquiring sexually-transmitted diseases
- Use drugs that require injections
- Are male and have had sexual contact with other men
- Routinely undergo kidney dialysis
- Travel or live in regions of the world where hepatitis B cases are common
- Live in or work in a prison
- Take drugs known to weaken the body's immune system including chemotherapy medicines and steroids
- Have had a blood transfusion or organ transplant prior to 1985.
Screening for the Disease Is Important
Doctors will often recommend that the patient undergoes screening for hepatitis B if they:
- Are HIV-positive
- Are pregnant
- Are male and having sexual contact with other men
- Are living with individuals with hepatitis B
- Have an increased potential chance of developing infections from other factors, diseases, and conditions
- Never received the hepatitis B vaccination
Even individuals who have never had any symptoms should consider a screening test if any of the above conditions apply. This is because certain complications can develop. Diagnosing the condition early on and receiving appropriate treatment can lower the possibility of developing serious complications including:
- Liver Failure – Often referred to as an end-stage liver disease, this type of failure can progress dramatically over months, years, or decades. At some point, the liver will lose its ability to function, requiring the patient undergo a transplant or die
- Cirrhosis – This liver damage condition occurs when the cells in the liver begin to deteriorate causing the organ to malfunction. This is because the healthy liver is replaced by scar tissue that will partially block blood flow to the organ. As the condition worsens, the liver will begin to fail.
- Liver Cancer – Individuals afflicted with chronic hepatitis B are at great risk of developing liver cancer. Typically, the doctor will recommend the patient undergo an ultrasound twice a year to capture an image of the liver that the doctor can use to rule out cancer. Detecting cancer in its early stage can significantly improve the odds of curing or overcoming the deadly disease.
The most common symptoms associated with hepatitis B include:
- A sensation of overall tiredness
- Dark yellow urine
- Loss of appetite
- Joint pain
- Clay- or gray-colored PCs
- Loss of appetite
- Joint pain
- Abdominal pain
- Vomiting and nausea
- Jaundice that turns the eyes and skin yellow
Certain medicines can exacerbate the symptoms of the hepatitis B virus that it will eventually damage the liver. These medications include:
- Immunosuppressants – Doctors often prescribe drugs to weaken the body's immune system in an effort to treat other diseases including rheumatoid arthritis, cancer, and inflammatory bowel disease.
- Hepatitis C Treatment Drugs – People afflicted with hepatitis who are also afflicted with hepatitis c and taking drugs to treat that virus. These include Interferons and medicines to stop the virus from replicating and spreading.
Diagnosing Hepatitis B
The doctor can make an accurate diagnosis of hepatitis B with a simple blood test and tell the patient that they have been affected by the virus, or have had in the past. Some individuals undergo a liver biopsy to determine if any damage has occurred from the hepatitis B virus.
If necessary, the doctor will insert a needle between the patient's ribs to collect a small bit of liver tissue that can be examined and analyzed under a microscope by a competent diagnostician. Liver biopsies are often performed when other tests have failed to assist the doctor with a clear diagnosis or determine if the liver problem is severe.
Treating Hepatitis B
Many individuals who have been affected by the hepatitis B virus never know they had the condition. This is because it often goes away without any treatment. Symptoms can be relieved at home by consuming healthy foods, getting considerable amounts of rest, drinking plenty of safe water, and avoid drugs and alcohol. The doctor will also recommend avoiding taking certain herbal products that are known to cause liver damage when the person is afflicted with the hepatitis B virus.
However, chronic cases of hepatitis B often involve an infection that becomes significantly worse to the point where cause extensive liver damage. While there are various drugs to treat chronic cases of hepatitis B, the doctor will need to determine which ones are right for the patient. If the virus infection progresses, it can eventually cause damage so severe to the liver that it requires a liver transplant.
Because of that, patients should take extraordinary caution to protect against both types of hepatitis A and hepatitis B viruses including never sharing needles, always using a condom during sex, never sharing razor blades or toothbrushes and wearing plastic or latex gloves whenever touching the blood of others.