Your liver is critical to your overall good health. It helps break down the foods you eat into nutrients your body can use to refuel, such as carbohydrates and fats. It also filters toxins from the blood, synthesizes proteins such as clotting factors, and metabolizes the medications and supplements you consume.
Hepatitis, which is inflammation of the liver, can lead to damage that interferes with your liver’s ability to function. Some types of hepatitis, such as hepatitis B and C, can eventually result in cirrhosis and/or liver cancer.
At Advanced Infectious Disease Medical, Avisheh Forouzesh, MD, is an infectious disease specialist who is well-versed in the treatment and prevention of hepatitis. She’s happy to provide valuable insight regarding hepatitis.
Hepatitis is sometimes related to alcohol use, medication toxicity, or exposure to dangerous chemicals. Commonly, however, it’s the result of a virus. Viral hepatitis is identified by the virus it’s related to, such as the hepatitis A virus (HAV).
Types of viral hepatitis include:
Note that hepatitis E is uncommon in the United States and is self-limiting, which means it does not result in chronic infection. However, it can lead to fulminant hepatitis in pregnant women, which causes rapid liver failure.
The Centers for Disease Control and Infection (CDC) notes that hepatitis B is most prevalent in sub-Saharan Africa and East Asia, affecting 5-10% of adults. That number drops to about 2% in the United States and has been on the decline, most likely due to the push for vaccinations.
Hepatitis C is most common in Asia and Africa but is present throughout the world. There is no vaccine available for hepatitis C.
Symptoms of an acute hepatitis infection may not develop for two weeks to six months after exposure to the virus and can include:
Unless you undergo screening, hepatitis symptoms can be so mild, however, that they’re missed entirely or sometimes blamed on another illness. Screening begins with simple blood tests that analyze your liver function.
A hepatitis B or C infection may become chronic (long term) but not produce symptoms for decades. Importantly, however, the virus can continue to cause extensive liver damage even when you’re asymptomatic. While it can take decades to develop, hepatitis B and C can eventually lead to liver cancer.
The potential for significant illness makes screening for hepatitis imperative, especially for individuals who are at a higher risk of contracting the virus. Routine screening is also recommended during pregnancy because hepatitis viruses can pass from mother to baby at birth.
The treatment for hepatitis depends upon the type you have and how far the virus has advanced. Early detection through screening can greatly improve treatment outcomes.
Hepatitis A and E typically resolve after several weeks to months, and treatment generally includes addressing the symptoms, which may include rest, drinking plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration, and eating small meals throughout the day to help combat nausea.
Antiviral medications are often used to treat hepatitis B or C. Surgery, including a liver transplant, is sometimes required when a hepatitis infection has advanced to cirrhosis or cancer. Hepatitis C is treatable and even curable with current therapies.
Preventing hepatitis A includes good hygiene, such as appropriate hand-washing techniques, using clean eating utensils and cooking surfaces and avoiding consumption of undercooked or raw shellfish or improperly washed produce.
You can also avoid contracting hepatitis A with a simple vaccine. Hepatitis A rarely causes long-term liver damage, but it can take as long as six months for the virus to run its course. Thus, the vaccine is often recommended for children and teens but is also very useful for adults.
Many people can clear hepatitis B on their own, but it can lead to chronic liver disease such as cirrhosis or liver cancer. The best way to prevent hepatitis B and its associated health risks is to get vaccinated.
The hepatitis B vaccination is recommended for newborns, who require a series of three vaccines over the first six months of life, as well as all medical/health care workers. There is no vaccine for hepatitis C but the use of condoms and avoiding risky behaviors, such as drug use/sharing needles, can help prevent this virus.
For more information about hepatitis screening, schedule a visit today with Dr. Forouzesh. Call the AIDM office in Hoboken, New Jersey, or book your visit online.