Treating Hepatitis B

December 14, 2007

Hepatitis B is a viral infection which attacks the liver. The condition is considered a sexually transmitted disease (STD) because it is passed from person to person via bodily fluids. Obviously enough, this means that you can catch Hep B from an infected person by having unprotected sex (sex without a latex or polyurethane condom) or by engaging in any activity (sexual or otherwise) which brings you into contact with a Hepatitis B carrier's blood. Symptoms of Hepatitis B include: loss of appetite, nausea and vomiting, weakness and fatigue, abdominal pain (particularly around the liver), dark urine, jaundice and fever.

Is There A Cure?

There is no cure for Hepatitis B - therefore treatment for the condition focuses on relieving the unpleasant (and often severe) symptoms of the disease. Once this has been done, the infected person will have to take life-long precautions against infecting others with Hep B. The good news is that an otherwise healthy adult who has contracted Hepatitis B is likely to make a full recovery from the symptoms of the disease. In the long term, chronic Hepatitis B ("chronic" meaning a life-long infection, even if symptoms aren't always present) can lead to liver disease. Therefore a Hepatitis B carrier will need to go for regular liver function checks.

Treatment

If you are unfortunate enough to contract Hepatitis B (although there are ways in which this can be prevented) your doctor may decide to monitor rather than treat your condition, depending on the level of risk to your liver. If your doctor does recommend treatment, this will probably consist of anti-viral drugs. Not all of these drugs are suitable for all Hep B patients - your doctor will discuss the pros and cons with you and decide on the most appropriate type of medication in your case.

Interferon injections - interferon is produced naturally in the body. By administering artificial interferon through injections, your doctor would hope to boost your immune system and increase your chances of fighting off the Hepatitis B infection. This medication stops the Hepatitis B virus replicating itself ("breeding") in your blood cells. Interferon may have some unpleasant side effects.

Telbivudine pills - these anti-viral pills are taken once a day and, like interferon, they stop Hepatitis B replicating in your blood cells. Telbivudine usually has few side effects but some patients find that their Hepatitis B symptoms worsen significantly when they stop taking the Telbivudine medication. A possible disadvantage of Telbivudine is that it can lead to the development of a drug-resistant form of Hepatitis B.

Entecavir pills - these are another form of anti-viral treatment for Hepatitis B. The pills are taken once a day. Some Hep B patients find their symptoms worsen when they stop this treatment.

Lamivudine and Adefovir pills - these are two different types of anti-viral treatment, both of which may have negative effects on the kidneys (and on the pancreas, in the case of Lamivudine). If you have suffered from kidney problems or pancreatitis in the past, you should tell your doctor before taking these medications. Both treatments come in pill form, usually taken once a day. On the positive side, both these drugs have minimal side effects, although some patients find that their Hepatitis B symptoms worsen when they stop taking the treatment. Lamivudine can encourage Hep B to become drug resistant.

Liver Transplant

In extreme cases in which Hep B has done considerable damage to the liver, a liver transplant may become necessary.

If You Know You've Been Exposed...

If you know there is a chance you've been exposed to Hepatitis B, get medical help immediately. An injection of Hepatitis B immune globulin may prevent you from developing Hep B, but only if you receive the injection within 24 hours of being exposed to the virus.

Prevention Is Better Than Cure

As with all STDs, there are ways of making sure you never have to have treatment for Hepatitis B. Using a latex (or polyurethane) condom correctly and consistently every time you have sex will greatly reduce your chances of coming into contact with the virus (as will limiting your number of sexual partners and insisting that you and your partner take regular STD tests). If you are already a Hepatitis B carrier, an even greater responsibility rests on your shoulders - to make sure that you never expose anyone else to the virus. Speak to your doctor for more information on this. He or she will probably recommend that people close to you get the Hepatitis B vaccine, if they have not already had it.

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