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Digestive Diseases and Hepatitis B

How Do I Know if I Have Hepatitis B?

Symptoms of acute infection (when a person is first infected with hepatitis B) include:

  • Jaundice (yellowing of the skin or whites of the eyes and/or a brownish or orange tint to the urine)
  • Unusually light-colored stool
  • Fever
  • Unexplained fatigue that persists for weeks or months
  • Gastrointestinal symptoms such as loss of appetite, nausea, and vomiting
  • Abdominal pain
  • Frequently there will be no symptoms, and it is only discovered in a blood test

Often, symptoms occur one to six months after exposure. An estimated 30% of those infected do not show typical signs or symptoms.

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.

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