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Diagnosed With Hepatitis B? Symptoms? Learning the HBV Basics

The tricky part about hepatitis B symptoms is that there are often no symptoms. That is why hepatitis B is referred to as a “silent infection”. This can be a little confusing to people newly diagnosed with HBV – whether it is determined you have an acute or chronic infection.

If you have a new, acute infection, there is a good chance you will be one of the roughly 69% with no notable symptoms. You may feel a little under-the-weather or a little more tired then usual, or you may notice no difference at all. You may learn about your infection through blood work following a possible exposure, or following screening from a blood donation. Since 90% of adults infected with hepatitis B will clear the infection – most with no medical intervention, it is possible for you to be infected, clear the virus, and never even know until blood work shows evidence of a past infection.

Then again you may be one of the roughly 30% who do have symptoms. You may experience flu-like symptoms such as achy muscles and joints, a low-grade fever and fatigue. Because your liver plays a role in digestion, you may experience a loss of appetite, feel a little nauseous, or experience pain in the upper right quadrant of your abdomen. You may have dark, tea colored urine. Then again, these symptoms may not be so severe that you take much notice. It’s okay, because these symptoms typically do not require treatment. However, if you are symptomatic, or you are concerned, please see your doctor, so blood tests can be run to be sure your liver is safe.

Here are the important symptoms that you need to have checked-out immediately: jaundice, severe nausea and vomiting, and bloating or swelling of the abdomen. If you have any of these symptoms, you need to seek immediate medical attention. Your doctor will want to run blood work, which will likely need to be repeated while you are symptomatic and as you recover, to monitor your condition and be sure you are safe. At this time, your doctor will determine the next steps –perhaps you will need to be admitted to the hospital for fluids and observation if you are severely dehydrated, or more likely, you’ll recover at home with regular lab work and follow-up with your doctor.

If you notice that your skin or the whites of your eyes are yellow, then you are suffering from jaundice. This is due to a build-up of bilirubin in the blood and tissues. Your liver is an amazing organ and one of its responsibilities is the filtering out of your body’s bi-products or other toxins from your blood, maintaining them at healthy levels. Jaundice is very unsettling to those that have it because it is noticeable by others. Normal coloring will return once the body is able to rid itself of the buildup of these toxins.

Although rare, (approximately 1%) acute hepatitis B can result in life-threatening, fulminant hepatitis, which can lead to liver failure. Fulminant hepatitis requires immediate medical attention.

The other possibility is that you are actually chronically infected, and that your infection is not new. You may have been living with HBV since birth or early childhood. Your hepatitis B infection may be a complete surprise to you.  You might ask, “How could I have this infection all of these years and not even know it?” Once again, HBV is a silent infection.  For those chronically infected, obvious symptoms may not occur for decades. The liver is a hard-working, non-complaining organ, but you don’t want to ignore your HBV and put yourself at increased risk for cirrhosis, liver failure or liver cancer. Believe it or not, the sooner you learn about your HBV infection, the better, so that you get regular monitoring, seek treatment if necessary, and make lifestyle changes that are good for your liver and overall health.

Whether you have symptoms or not, there are a few things you need to remember. You must go back to your doctor for further lab work to determine if your HBV infection is acute or chronic. If you are still surface antigen positive (HBsAg+) after 6 months, then you have a chronic infection and need to see a liver specialist to learn more about your hepatitis B infection. The other thing you must do is take precautions so you do not transmit hepatitis B to sexual partners and close household contacts.  And finally, be sure to take care of your liver by eating a well-balanced diet, avoiding alcohol, and talk to your doctor or pharmacist about prescriptions or OTC drugs that may be hard on your liver.

Just Diagnosed with Hepatitis B? How to Get Through the Next Six Months to Find Out If It’s Acute or Chronic

Image courtesy of graur razvan ionut at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.
Image courtesy of graur razvan ionut at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

Have you recently been told you have hepatitis B?  Dealing with the illness and waiting out the next six months to determine if your case will resolve itself or become chronic can be nerve-wracking.

Fortunately, 90 percent of adults who are infected will clear or resolve an acute hepatitis B infection.  Acute patients do not typically require hospitalization, or even medication, during this time.  If you are symptomatic, (some symptoms include jaundice, dark urine, abdominal pain, fever, general malaise)  you may be anxiously conferring with your doctor, but if you are asymptomatic, you might not feel compelled to take the diagnosis seriously.  The response to both is to maintain a balance.  Do not ignore a hepatitis B diagnosis, but don’t let it consume you.

Your doctor will be monitoring your blood work over the next few months to ensure you clear the virus.  Your job is to start loving your liver …today.  STOP drinking alcoholic beverages.  Refrain from smoking.  Your liver is a non-complaining organ, but you cannot live without it.  Make everything in your diet liver-friendly and healthy.

Avoid processed foods, fatty foods and junk.  Get advice before taking prescription medications, herbal remedies, or over-the-counter drugs – especially pain relievers like ibuprofen, acetaminophen and paracetamol.  They can be dangerous to a liver that is battling hepatitis B.  Get plenty of rest, and exercise gently, if you are able.

Don’t forget that you are infectious during this time, and that loved ones, sexual partners and household contacts should be vaccinated for hepatitis B.  Be sure you and all contacts follow standard precautions.  If anyone fears exposure, encourage screening to ensure they did not contract hepatitis B as a result of your infection.  The hepatitis B vaccine is not effective if you are already infected with the virus.

On the flip-side… Do not let this new hepatitis B diagnosis consume you.  As the weeks and months pass, you might find that your illness is not resolving, and you might worry that you are one of the unfortunate 10 percent whose infection becomes chronic.  The associated stress and anxiety can be challenging, even overwhelming.  It can contribute to physical symptoms you may be experiencing.  Join an on-line support group, find a confidant or professional with whom you can share your fears.

When your lab results are back, and you’re told you have cleared your hepatitis B infection, be sure to get copies of your lab reports to ensure there are no mistakes.  If something looks wrong, or if you’re confused, speak up and ask your doctor.  It is imperative that you know if your acute case has progressed to a chronic infection.

No one wants chronic hepatitis B, but it is manageable with monitoring and there are effective treatments.  If you are confused about your diagnosis or test results, feel free to contact the Hepatitis B Foundation at info@hepb.org.

There are lessons to be learned from this experience.  If you have resolved your acute hepatitis B infection, then you do not need to be vaccinated.  However, please be sure that you help us eradicate this virus by spreading the word and ensuring everyone you know has been screened and vaccinated for Hepatitis B.  And don’t forget to keep Love N’ Your Liver…