Hepatitis B is an infection which affects the liver and is caused as a result of Hepatitis B virus. Due to chronic Hepatitis B, the chances of developing cirrhosis, liver cancer or liver failure increases which causes permanent liver scarring. Infants and small children are more likely to suffer from hepatitis B infection. As of now there is no cure for this disease. However there are vaccines available which will help prevent the infection.
Symptoms of Hepatitis B
Signs & symptoms of hepatitis B vary from mild to severe and usually start appearing from about 1 to 4 months from the date of infection. The signs & symptoms for hepatitis B include:
- Weakness and fatigue
- Dark urine
- Abdominal pain
- Loss of appetite
- Joint pain
- Nausea and vomiting
- Yellowing of skin and whitening of the eyes (jaundice)
Causes of Hepatitis B
The single most important cause of Hepatitis B is the Hepatitis B virus. This virus passes from one person to the other either through blood, semen or through other body fluids. The most common ways in which the hepatitis B virus spreads are:
- Sexual contact: When one has unprotected sex with his or her partner who might be infected with Hepatitis B and when the blood, saliva, semen or vaginal secretion enters the body, the other person may contact the disease.
- Sharing of needles: Needles and syringes are one more reason why hepatitis B virus spreads. When the syringe infected with the hepatitis B virus is inserted in the vein of the other person, the other person tends to get infected with this disease. Sharing the intravenous (IV) drug paraphernalia tends to put one at a higher risk of contracting Hepatitis B.
- Mother to child: When a pregnant woman gives birth to a child, if she is infected with the hepatitis B virus, it may spread to her child. However, the newborn baby can be vaccinated to help him escape the risk of contracting the disease and for this, one needs to consult the doctor and take his/ her advice.
Types of Hepatitis B
There are 2 types of hepatitis B diseases- Chronic and Acute. Acute Hepatitis B infection is short-lived and chronic hepatitis B infection is long lasting.
- Acute hepatitis B infection: This lasts for less than 6 months where the immune system itself can fight the bacteria and the individual recovers completely in a few months.
- Chronic hepatitis B infection: This lasts for six months or longer. In this, the immune system cannot fight off the infection, and the infection may last forever. This condition may lead to serious illnesses like liver cancer, cirrhosis, etc.
Tests & diagnosis for Hepatitis B
If your doctor thinks that you suffer from hepatitis B, he/ she will first ask you lifestyle related questions. He/ she will also ask you to get a blood check done to identify if you have hepatitis viruses in your blood or not and whether it is acute or chronic. The doctor would also perform a liver biopsy where a small portion of the liver (liver tissue sample) is taken out for checking the liver damage.
Treatments & drugs for Hepatitis B
If the doctor identifies your hepatitis B as acute, the doctor will ask you to take enough rest and take a nutritious diet. Acute hepatitis B infection goes away on its own and there is no need of any treatment as such. If the doctor identifies your hepatitis B as chronic, the doctor will ask you to take medicines which will prevent liver diseases while reducing the risk of spread of diseases to others. The doctor may give antiviral medicines like lamivudine (Epivir), telbivudine (Tyzeka), adefovir (Hepsera) and entecavir (Baraclude). These medicines reduce the ability of the virus to cause liver damage. If the liver is severely damaged, the doctor may ask the patient to undergo liver transplant.
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