What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Hepatitis B?
Symptoms of acute infection (when a person is first infected with hepatitis) 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
- Unexplained fatigue that persists for weeks or months
- Flu-like symptoms such as fever, loss of appetite, nausea, and vomiting
- Abdominal pain
Often, symptoms occur one to six months after exposure, with an average of three month. An estimated 30% of those infected do not have any symptoms at all.
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 virus.
If your disease becomes chronic, liver biopsies (tissue samples) may be obtained to detect the severity of the disease.
How Is Hepatitis B Treated?
If you get to a doctor shortly after the exposure, you'll often receive immediate immunization with the first in a series of three shots with the hepatitis B vaccination and a shot to boost the immune system to fight off the infection.
Also, take extra care of your liver! Now is not the time to drink alcohol, or take Tylenol (acetaminophen) because they can harm the liver. Check with your doctor before taking any other medications, herbal remedies, or supplements as some of them can worsen liver damage.
If your hepatitis persists beyond six months and is active (chronic active hepatitis), your doctor may prescribe much more aggressive treatment. If it's chronic but not active, your doctor may just watch you closely.
People with chronic active hepatitis are treated with a combination of drugs like the following:
Interferon. The immune system boosting medicine interferon is injected either daily, several times a week, or weekly for up to a year. Interferon does have some undesirable side effects, including: fatigue, depression, and loss of appetite and it can lower the number of white blood cells. There are two types of interferon: interferon-alfa (Intron) and peginterferon alfa (Pegasys).
Lamivudine (Epivir). Another drug often given in combination with interferon is lamivudine (Epivir). This drug is taken orally once a day. Usually, this drug is well tolerated, but it can cause a worsening of liver functioning in rare instances.
Adefovir (Hepsera). This drug is taken by pill once a day and works well in people whose disease doesn't respond to Epivir. It can cause kidney problems especially in people that already have kidney disease, but it can occur in anyone.
- Entecavir (Baraclude). This drug is taken by pill daily and studies are showing it may be one of the most effective antiviral drugs available for hepatitis B.
- Viread (Tenofovir): a once daily pill. It is also used to treat HIV and is used in patients who have both HIV and Hepatitis B. It can also be used as a single agent for Hepatitis B.