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Understanding Hepatitis -- Diagnosis and Treatment

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How Do I Know If I Have Hepatitis? continued...

The following groups of people should be screened for hepatitis B virus:

  • People born in areas where HBV is endemic
  • Men who have sex with men
  • Intravenous drug users (both present and former users)
  • Dialysis patients
  • HIV-infected people
  • Pregnant women
  • Family members, household members, and sex partners of HBV-infected people (even if sex occurred on only one occasion)
  • People who have had more than one sex partner within 6 months

Otherwise, routine screening for hepatitis typically is not recommended unless you have symptoms or signs (such as abnormal liver-related blood tests) of the condition.

What If I Have Symptoms of Viral Hepatitis?

If you have symptoms or signs of viral hepatitis, your health care provider can perform a blood test to check for the presence of an antibody. If you have hepatitis, more blood samples may be necessary later -- even if the symptoms have vanished -- to check for complications and determine if you have progressed from acute (infected within the past six months) to chronic (having the virus for greater than six months) disease. Most people have vague or no symptoms at all; hence, viral hepatitis is often referred to as a silent disease.

Your health care provider may also require a liver biopsy, or tissue sample, in order to determine the extent of the damage. A biopsy is commonly performed by inserting a needle into the liver and drawing out a fragment of tissue, which is then sent to a lab to be analyzed.

 

What Are the Treatments for Viral Hepatitis?

The treatment for viral hepatitis depends on the type and stage of the infection. Over the last several years, excellent treatments for both hepatitis B and C have become available. More and improved treatments are being evaluated all the time.

Your primary care doctor should be able to provide adequate care of your hepatitis. However, if you have severe hepatitis, you may require treatment by a hepatologist or gastroenterologist -- specialists in diseases of the liver. Hospitalization is normally unnecessary unless you cannot eat or drink or are vomiting.

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