Liver is one of the most vital organs of your body that performs some crucial physiological functions of the body. These include helping your body get rid of toxins, ensuring proper absorption of nutrients, filtering your blood and fighting infections. Any significant damage to your liver can be life threatening. Hepatitis, an inflammatory condition, can harm this organ potentially. This liver condition is mostly caused by viral infections. There are five viruses that can cause hepatitis. They are Hepatitis A, B, C, D and E.
What is Hepatitis B?
Caused by hepatitis B virus, it is the most severe form of liver inflammation and can be fatal too. Characterized by vomiting, yellowing of eyes, dark urine and abdominal pain, hepatitis B is most likely to affect people with low immunity, pregnant women, those suffering from an underlying condition and kids. According to the WHO statistics, around 600000 people die every year due to acute or chronic consequences of hepatitis B. Left untreated, it can cause liver failure, scarring of the organ and even cancer. The mode of transmission is contact with the blood, body fluid and open sores of an infected person. If you get hepatitis B as an adult, you are likely to recover within a few months and you won’t catch this infection ever again. However, the condition is likely to persist for life if the virus was transmitted to you at birth.
Hepatitis B Symptoms
Most people do not experience symptoms during the initial phase of infection, (up to six months of catching the virus). However, if one is suffering from acute hepatitis B, there could symptoms that persist for several weeks. The manifestations include:
- Yellowing of the skin and eyes (jaundice)
- Dark urine
- Extreme fatigue
- Loss of appetite
- Abdominal pain
In some cases, the hepatitis B virus can cause chronic liver infection which, if left untreated might develop into cirrhosis of the liver or liver cancer.
What Causes Hepatitis B?
Contaminated food and water are the culprits behind various types of hepatitis. However, that’s not the case with hepatitis B. One can get hepatitis B through unprotected sex, sharing needles, accidental needlestick injuries (applicable to healthcare worker) and unsafe blood transfusion. It can also be transmitted to children from their mothers at birth.
Risks of Hepatitis B
Apart from the above-mentioned causes, there are quite a few factors than can escalate one’s chance of catching the hepatitis B infection. Here are they:
- Being a healthcare worker
- Using intravenous drugs
- Having multiple sex partners
- Having HIV, diabetes, a chronic liver or kidney disease
- Travelling to countries with a high prevalence of hepatitis B infection
Hepatitis B Complications
This liver infection may be accompanied by several other complications. These include
Diagnosis of Hepatitis B
Your doctor will recommend the following tests if he suspects hepatitis B:
Hepatitis B surface antigen test
This test tells your doctor if you can spread hepatitis B. A positive reading means you have the condition and are contagious. If you test negative, you are aren’t currently suffering from the condition. However, hepatitis B surface antigen test doesn’t reveal what type of hepatitis B you have: Acute or chronic. It is used along with other hepatitis B tests to determine the state of this condition.
Hepatitis B core antigen test
It reveals if you are currently suffering from hepatitis B. It distinguishes between acute or chronic hepatitis B. This results also tell your doctor if you are recovering from acute hepatitis B.
Hepatitis B surface antibody test
A positive result of this test reveals whether or not you have developed immunity against hepatitis The reading may be positive if you are vaccinated against the condition or have recovered from acute hepatitis B infection and are not contagious anymore.
Liver function tests
These are blood tests that reveal the amount of certain liver enzymes in your blood. High levels of these enzymes are indicative of liver damage or inflammation. These tests also tell your doctor which part of your liver is functioning abnormally. Apart from these, you may need an ultrasound of the liver along with other imaging tests like biopsy.
Treatment for Hepatitis B
No specific treatment is required for acute hepatitis B. It gets cured if proper nutritional balance is maintained alongside replacing fluids lost due to symptoms like vomiting and diarrhoea. In case of acute hepatitis B, one should avoid acetaminophen, paracetamol and medicines used against vomiting.
The line of treatment for chronic hepatitis B includes antiviral drugs. The aim is to reduce the chance of liver cancer and ensure long-term survival. The medicines that your doctor may recommend include tenofovir or entecavir, lamivudine, adefovir dipivoxil and interferon alfa among others. These oral drugs may come with several side effects. Most commonly, they may affect your kidneys. So your doctor will monitor you constantly for any abnormality in the functioning of your kidneys. In severe cases, hepatitis B may give you liver cirrhosis. This may necessitate a liver transplant.
Prevention of hepatitis B
The best way to prevent this condition is to immunize yourself with the hepatitis B vaccine. According to the recommendations of the WHO, all newborns should receive this vaccine within 24 hours of birth. This should be followed by two to three booster doses at least 4 weeks apart. The hepatitis B vaccine is also recommended for adults who haven’t been vaccinated at birth. The preventive measures against this condition include avoiding unprotected sex. Lastly, and most importantly, do not share your needles, razors or personal belongings which can have your blood or other body fluids on them.