Hepatitis Q & A
What is hepatitis?
Hepatitis is a viral infection of the liver. Depending on the type of virus and individual, hepatitis can be acute or chronic, and its symptoms and potential complications range from mild to serious. There are three main types of hepatitis:
Hepatitis A usually spreads through contaminated food or drink. The disease usually improves on its own and doesn’t put you at risk of long-term liver damage.
Hepatitis B spreads through bodily fluids and most often people get it through sex or intravenous drug use. This form of hepatitis can be acute, lasting no longer than six months. However, it’s sometimes long-term and can lead to serious complications if left untreated, including organ failure and liver cancer.
Hepatitis C spreads through blood, so as with hepatitis B people usually get it through intravenous drug use. Hepatitis C always starts with an acute phase. The infection may go away on its own or develop into a chronic condition with the potential to cause liver damage.
There are two additional hepatitis viruses, D and E. However, hepatitis D only develops in people who already have hepatitis B, and hepatitis E is extremely rare in America.
What are the symptoms of hepatitis?
In acute or chronic hepatitis, depending on how far the disease has progressed, you may experience:
- Abdominal pain
- Chalky, clay-colored stool
- Dark urine
- Jaundice (yellowing of the skin or eyes)
- Mild fever
- Muscle or joint aches
- Loss of appetite
Chronic forms of hepatitis, including hepatitis B and C, often don’t cause symptoms at first. You may be infected for years and not know you have it until you’ve already sustained liver damage, including cirrhosis (scarring). Further, acute hepatitis can pass without any noticeable symptoms.
How is hepatitis treated?
The treatment approach the physician recommends depends on the type of hepatitis you have.
There’s no medication specifically for hepatitis A, and the infection goes away on its own within six months with minimal chance of liver damage. The physician will focus treatment on managing your symptoms, including nausea and fever, and making sure you get enough rest.
Acute hepatitis B is often manageable through rest, staying hydrated, and making sure you get proper nutrition. If you have chronic hepatitis B,the physician may treat it with antiviral medication and closely monitor your liver for signs of damage or disease.
Hepatitis C is treatable with antiviral medication, which can clear the virus in as little as eight to 12 weeks. If you’ve already experienced significant liver damage, the physician may recommend an organ transplant. This doesn’t cure hepatitis C by itself, but antiviral drugs are effective in curing post transplant hepatitis C in these cases.
If you have hepatitis or suspect you’ve been exposed to a form of the infection, call New York Gastroenterology Associates or schedule an appointment online today.