Hepatitis B is one of the severe infections that can be life-threatening if left untreated. Although there are other types, all of them are caused by a virus. Hepatitis B affects all body parts; however, the main point of attack is the liver.
What is Hepatitis B?
Hepatitis B is a disease that affects the liver. It is caused by a virus and can be either acute or mild. For some people, it can be mild, and for some others, it is more acute. If the situation becomes chronic, it can affect the organs, cause liver failure or even cause cancer.
There are other types of hepatitis, such as hepatitis A and hepatitis C, and they are all caused by viruses.
The hepatitis B virus causes hepatitis B, and it is spread or transferred from one person to another in different ways. The most common ways by which hepatitis B is spread include the following;
- Sharing of needles and sharp objects: It is easy to spread the viral infection through needles and syringes that have been contaminated with infected blood.
- Sex: Having unprotected sex with an infected person can cause infection. Additionally, unprotected sexual intercourse with an infected person exposes you to infected body fluids like semen, vaginal secretions, saliva, and even blood.
- From mother to child: A pregnant woman with hepatitis B can transfer the infection or virus to her child during childbirth. Fortunately, there are vaccines that protect newborns from getting infected.
Note that hepatitis B cannot be spread through kissing, sharing utensils or physical contact.
Generally, short term hepatitis B does not always cause symptoms. However, people can still exhibit symptoms such as;
- Belly pain
- Jaundice which is the yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes, and the change of urine colour to brown or orange
- Joint pain
- Light coloured poop
- Loss of appetite
- Persistent fatigue
Note that symptoms may not show until after 1 to 6 months after infection, and some people may not know they are infected until they get a blood test.
The symptoms of long term or chronic infection does not always show up or manifest, but they are similar to the symptoms of a short term infection.
The first step to getting diagnosed with hepatitis B is through a complete physical exam. Next is a blood test that checks if your liver is inflamed. Finally, if you are already showing symptomsand you have high levels of liver enzymes, you will be tested for the following:
- Hepatitis B surface antigen and antibody (HBsAg): There are proteins on Hepatitis B, known as antigens. Antibodies, on the other hand, are proteins made by the body’s immune cells, and they show up in the blood between 1 – 10 weeks after exposure to the virus. If you recover, the antibodies will go away after 4 -6 months; however, they will still be present after 6 months if the infection is chronic.
- Hepatitis B surface antibody (anti–HBs): These antibodies show up after the HBsAg disappears. It is this antibody that makes you immune to hepatitis B for the rest of your life.
If the disease becomes chronic, tissue samples may have to be taken from your liver by your doctor. It is called a biopsy and will be used to determine how severe the case is. Also, you might get a liver ultrasound to check how much liver damage there is.
The earlier you get treated for hepatitis B, the faster you will feel better. Treatment involves a vaccine and a shot of hepatitis B immune globulin. This helps you to fight off the infection by boosting your immune system.
During your treatment, you will have to give up things that could hurt your liver, including alcohol and acetaminophen. You will also have to cultivate good diet tips and healthy habits. Also, check with your doctor before you take any drugs, supplements or herbal treatments. There are some medications that can be prescribed for hepatitis B, and they include the following;
- Interferon alfa ( Intron A, Roferon A, Sylatron)
- Lamivudine (3tc, Epivir A/F, Epivir HBV, Heptovir)
- Pegylated Interferon (Pegasys)
- Entecavir (Baraclude)
- Telbivudine (Tyzeka) etc.
Complications of Hepatitis B
Some complications can arise after a hepatitis B infection, and they include;
- Liver failure: This is when the liver is no longer able to perform its functions effectively. It usually happens in severe chronic cases of hepatitis B and can also be called end-stage liver disease.
- Liver cancer: Chronic hepatitis B can lead to liver cancer if left untreated. After treatment, your doctor may recommend an ultrasound scan to see if your livers are damaged.
- Cirrhosis: This is known as scarring of the liver. It can lead to liver failure if left untreated and is also caused by chronic hepatitis B.
Other complications that may arise from hepatitis B include kidney disease and blood vessel problems.
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