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Digestive Diseases and Hepatitis B

How Is Hepatitis B Diagnosed?

If your doctor suspects that you may have hepatitis B, he or she will perform a complete physical exam and order blood tests to look at the function of your liver. Hepatitis B is confirmed with blood tests that detect the hepatitis virus and various antibodies (infection-fighting cells) against the virus.

If your disease becomes chronic, a liver biopsy (tissue sample) may be obtained to determine the severity of the disease.

How Is Hepatitis B Treated?

If you get to a doctor within two weeks after exposure to hepatitis B, you'll receive immediate vaccination and a shot of hepatitis immune globulin to boost the immune system to fight off the infection.

But if you get sick, bed rest is usually necessary to speed recovery. Some doctors recommend a high-calorie, high-fat diet and suggest that sufferers try to eat as much as possible despite the nausea. Other experts recommend a low fat diet. Work closely with your doctor to determine which is right for you.

Also, if you are infected with hepatitis B, take extra care of your liver. Do not drink alcohol, or take Tylenol (acetaminophen) as they can harm the liver. Check with your doctor before taking any other drugs, herbal remedies, or supplements as some of them can worsen liver damage.

If your hepatitis persists beyond six months and is in an active state (chronic active hepatitis B), your doctor may prescribe much more aggressive treatment. If it is not active (inactive carrier state), your doctor may just watch you closely.

People with chronic hepatitis are treated with a combination of drugs. These include:

  • Interferon. The immune system-boosting medicine interferon alpha is injected for at least 6 months. This drug does not cure the disease, but improves liver inflammation. Long-acting interferon (peginterferon) has also been shown to be useful. Interferon does have some undesirable side effects, including: malaise, depression, and loss of appetite, and it can lower the number of white blood cells.
  • Epivir. This drug is taken orally once a day. Usually, the drug is well-tolerated. Viral mutations often arise after prolonged use.
  • Hepsera. This drug works well in people whose disease doesn't respond to Epivir but, in high doses it can cause kidney problems.
  • Baraclude. This is the newest drug for hepatitis B.
  • Viread. Monitoring kidney function is needed with this treatment.


Hepatitis B and Pregnancy

A pregnant woman can spread the hepatitis B virus to her baby at the time of birth. It is unlikely that an infected woman will spread the virus to her baby during pregnancy.

If not treated, many babies infected with hepatitis B develop long-term liver problems. All newborn babies from hepatitis B-infected mothers should be given hepatitis B immune globulin and the vaccine for hepatitis at birth and during their first year of life.

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