What is Hepatitis B?
Hepatitis refers to inflammation of the liver. Hepatitis can result from trauma, drug or alcohol abuse, infections and other causes. Hepatitis B is a virus than can cause acute or chronic hepatitis. Chronic Hepatitis B can cause cirrhosis of the liver and liver cancer.
Symptoms & Diagnosis
Hepatitis B may not have any symptoms. However, acute infection can cause
- loss of appetite,
- muscle aches,
- darkening of the urine,
- and abdominal pain.
Or patients with chronic infection and progression of the disease may exhibit
- fluid retention,
- muscle wasting,
- and bleeding problems.
Diagnosis of Hepatitis B is determined by liver tests which can show elevated abnormal enzymes. There are also other markers that indicate liver infection in the blood. Use of physical exam can demonstrate yellow skin or easy bruising. An ultrasound or CT scan may show signs of cirrhosis if the patient has a chronic infection.
A liver biopsy can be considered if the diagnosis is in doubt, or to assess the degree of liver damage.
Since the most common mode of transmission of Hepatitis B is through sexual contact, sexual partners of infected individuals should use protection during intercourse.
Household contacts of those infected with Hepatitis B should be vaccinated, and avoid coming in contact with the patient’s blood or bodily fluids.
Hepatitis B vaccine is now routinely administered to all babies born in the United States in order to greatly reduce the risk of contracting the virus.
Prevention & Treatment
Acute infection can be treated with supportive care, but a patient may need to be hospitalized if it is severe. Usually, healthy adults with strong immune systems will then be able to clear the infection. In rare cases, liver transplant may need to be considered.
Patients with chronic Hepatitis B infection can be treated with antiviral medications. Such are helpful in decreasing inflammation in the liver and reducing likelihood of progression to cirrhosis. However, liver transplant can be considered in select patients who do develop cirrhosis from Hepatitis B.
Some groups are at higher risk for contracting Hepatitis B including people from countries with a high prevalence of infection from the virus, intravenous drug users, people with multiple sexual partners, nursing home residents, healthcare workers, household contacts of people infected with Hepatitis B, dialysis patients, hemophilia patients, prisoners, and travelers to underdeveloped nations.
Prevention may include avoiding excess alcohol or medications that are harmful to the liver, vaccination for Hepatitis A (if not already immune), and regular blood tests to monitor liver function.