Hepatitis A Treatments, Complications, and Prognosis

Unlike other types, the hepatitis A virus is rarely dangerous. Almost everyone who gets it makes a full recovery. But since it can take anywhere from a few weeks to several months to clear up, it’s a good idea to know how to take care of yourself in the meantime.

How Is Hepatitis A Treated?

If you think you’ve been exposed to hepatitis A, you should see your doctor right away. Getting a vaccine or a drug called hepatitis A immune globulin could keep you from getting sick. But for this to work, you’ll need to get the vaccine very soon after coming into contact with the virus.

There’s no treatment once you’ve been infected. You’ll have to wait until your body gets rid of the virus. Most people find that their liver is healed within 6 months.

How to Treat Hepatitis A Symptoms at Home

Try these tips to care for yourself while you’re waiting for the virus to go away:

  • Stay in. Until any fever and jaundice have cleared up, your doctor will want you to skip work or school and stay at home.
  • Rest up. It’s normal to feel very tired during the first few weeks that you’re sick.
  • Take care of your skin. Some people with hepatitis A get very itchy. Keep your house cool, wear loose clothes, and skip very hot baths and showers.
  • Eat small meals. This is easier on your stomach than big, heavy meals. It’ll also lessen your chances of feeling queasy or throwing up.
  • Get enough calories. A loss of appetite is common. To make sure you’re getting enough nutrients, you may need to choose foods that are high in calories. You could even try drinking fruit juice instead of water.
  • Avoid alcohol . Drinking alcohol will strain your liver. You’ll want to avoid it until your doctor gives you the go-ahead.
  • Go easy on your liver. While you’re sick, your liver will have a tough time breaking down any drugs, including over-the-counter ones. Ask your doctor what medicines -- including vitamins and supplements -- are safe for you to take.
  • Keep your illness to yourself. The hepatitis A virus is easily spread to others. Until you’re well, avoid all sexual activity, even sex with a condom. Don’t prepare food for others. Wash your hands each time you use the toilet or change a diaper.
  • Check in with your doctor. She’ll want to make sure you’re coping with your symptoms. She can let you know when you’re well enough to return to your normal routine.

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Possible Complications of Hepatitis A

Hepatitis A can cause more serious health problems. Keep in mind all that these are rare and more likely to happen in people who are over 50.

  • Liver failure . This usually affects people who are:
    • Older
    • Already have another type of liver disease
    • Have a weakened immune system
  • Guillain-Barre syndrome. With this disorder, your immune system attacks your nervous system. It causes muscle weakness and even paralysis. You’ll need to be treated in a hospital to ease your symptoms and make you heal faster. You’ll get high-dose immunoglobulin therapy. This mix of proteins delivered through an IV will boost your immune system.
  • Pancreatitis . This is when your pancreas, a gland that helps digest food and control blood sugar, gets inflamed. You may need to stop eating for a few days to give it a rest. If you’re at risk of getting dehydrated, you may need to go into the hospital to get fluids through an IV.

If your doctor feels your liver isn’t working well, she may admit you to the hospital to keep an eye on how well your liver is working. In severe cases, you might need to have a liver transplant.

Prognosis for Hepatitis A

Most people get better within 2 months. There are usually no long-term effects. After you recover, you’ll be immune for the rest of your life.

It’s rare, but for some people, the disease comes and goes for about 6 months before it goes away completely.

It shouldn’t harm your liver or cause liver failure unless you already had a liver condition or you’re elderly. If you have liver failure, you’ll need a transplant.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Sabrina Felson, MD on November 14, 2018

Sources

SOURCES:

World Health Organization: “Hepatitis A.”

CDC: “Hepatitis A: Questions and Answers for the Public.”

NHS: “Treating Hepatitis A.”

American Family Physician: “Hepatitis A.”

Mayo Clinic: “Hepatitis A,” “Pancreatitis.”

National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases: “Hepatitis A.”

UpToDate: “Patient Education: Hepatitis A (Beyond the Basics).”

American Liver Foundation: “Hepatitis A.”

Health Exchange: “Complications of Hepatitis A.”

National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke: “Guillain-Barre Syndrome Fact Sheet.”

NHS inform: “Hepatitis A.”

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