Hep B Blog

Category Archives: Liver Health

The Alarming Link Between Hep B and the Opioid Epidemic

This post was written by guest blogger Dr. Ahmed Howeedy.

Rates of hepatitis B transmission are on the rise in the United States. The little-known truth is why— and it has everything to do with the raging opioid epidemic that every day claims 130 lives to overdose.

How Opioid Epidemic Is Fueling Intravenous Drug Use

Heroin and prescription painkillers like oxycodone, hydrocodone and morphine have increasingly served as intravenous drugs of abuse for a growing number of Americans who suffer from untreated addiction to these drugs. That increase in intravenous drug use—and with it, higher rates of exposure to unclean needles and IV drug paraphernalia, coupled with low rates of hepatitis B vaccination—has fed a nationwide outbreak of hepatitis B. New cases of the liver disease are reportedly up by an average of 20 percent across the country, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

How Hep B and the Opioid Epidemic Are Related

It’s therefore no coincidence that areas where the opioid epidemic has hit hardest have seen especially dramatic increases in hepatitis B transmission. Consider the following data collected by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services:

  •  In opioid hot spots such as Kentucky, Tennessee and West Virginia, the incidence of acute hepatitis B infection rose by 114 percent between the years 2009 and 2013, CDC reported.
  • North Carolina reportedly saw a 56 percent jump in new Hep B cases in 2014-2016.
  • And, in Massachusetts, where the government declared in 2015 that there was an opioid crisis, cases of Hep B linked to intravenous drug use increased by 78 percent more than the national average in 2017, according to a Department of Public Health advisory.

How to Intervene When You Suspect Intravenous Drug Use

What is perhaps most tragic about the link between hepatitis B and intravenous drug use is that it is preventable, thanks to public health education and the hepatitis B vaccine. Today most reputable opioid treatment programs will educate incoming patients about the risks of hepatitis B, by testing for the disease and administering the vaccine. And, because quality opioid treatment addresses the roots of addiction that led someone down the path of intravenous drug use, a good rehab program is also the best way to help an intravenous drug user quit their risky behaviors and reduce their risks of overdose.

For family members who suspect their loved one is an intravenous drug user or in imminent danger of intravenous drug use, then, consider having an open, honest and non-judgmental conversation about your concerns. This is not the time to excoriate your loved one for engaging in risky behaviors. The most important, immediate concern should be one of preventing further harm in the form of an overdose, hepatitis B and other dangers like HIV. Here are some things you can do to intervene quickly and effectively when you suspect intravenous drug use:

  •  Encourage your loved one to get treatment for their addiction. Sometimes an intervention will be the most persuasive approach. Equally critical is finding quality integrated care that will treat the medical, neurological, psychological, and behavioral dimensions of an opioid addiction. A trusted treatment provider will offer the hepatitis B vaccine, yes. They will also offer medication-assisted treatment (MAT) for relieving the opioid cravings that so often can trigger a relapse—naltrexone has helped many of my patients with opioid addiction—but a good provider will also take an integrated, wraparound approach that treats the whole person and not just the physical aspects of their addiction.
  • Take your loved one to their primary care doctor for a checkup. Sometimes progress has to come in smaller steps. If you can’t persuade your loved one to enter a rehab program, insist on an annual check-up with their primary care doctor— and if possible, go with them. In these contexts, it’s routine for doctors to ask about lifestyle choices such as drinking, smoking and illicit drug use; and, as a doctor, I’ve found that patients answer these questions honestly most of the time. (For that matter, even if a patient lies about their intravenous drug use, the signs are hard to hide in a medical exam.) In this context, your loved one will be strongly encouraged to get the hepatitis B vaccine series and counseling for other blood-borne infectious diseases which they are at risk for.
  • If your loved one has given up on treatment or refuses to consider it, invite them to consider local harm reduction options. These options and their availability can depend on where you live. Many states now have needle exchange programs. There are approximately 185 such programs operating nationwide, according to a fact sheet from the ACLU. Other harm reduction initiatives include safe injection education and greater public access to the overdose prevention drug naloxone.

Hepatitis B may be the slower, more insidious killer in an opioid epidemic that’s better known by the overdose figures— but it’s a dangerous killer nonetheless. The good news is that with greater public awareness about the problem of prescription painkillers, intravenous drug use and their link to Hep B, we can put an end to that killing spree. Make sure that yourself and your loved ones are protected from hepatitis B by speaking with them or a doctor about the 2-3 doses vaccine!

Dr. Ahmed Howeedy is Chief Medical Officer at FHE Health, a nationally recognized behavioral health provider. Learn more about FHE Health’s addiction treatment programs.

How To Talk To Your Doctor About Hep B in 5 Minutes

 

Going to the doctor can be an intimidating experience for anyone, but perhaps even more so when you’re living with hepatitis B. You have plenty of questions to ask and not enough time! This guide can help you focus on the important questions and become more comfortable discussing your infection with your doctor. 

  • Be Prepared: With only a limited amount of time to discuss concerns, it is essential to ask what matters most. Write down questions that you have been wondering about in order from most urgent to least. This will ensure that you get the answers that you need the most before you run out of time. We have a list of helpful questions that you can take, or they can help you create your own! You can also take a second person along to take notes and help ask follow-up questions. It may be helpful to organize your questions, previous test results, and any notes that you may have in a single folder to take along with you.

 

  • Do Your Research: Hepatitis B is a complex virus and its lack of symptoms can make it tricky to grasp what is going on inside of your body.  Familiarizing yourself with hepatitis B blood test results, liver enzyme tests, or liver function tests and being aware of test results out of normal ranges can go a long way in helping you understand your own body, and to figure out what questions you should ask. Remember to always get copies of all of your test results so you can monitor how they change over time. If something is abnormal, you can address it immediately. 

 

Be sure you are doing your research on trustworthy websites! Misinformation can be damaging, so it is extremely important to find information that is based upon scientific evidence. How do you know if the information is trustworthy? Some common tips are to look for information from trusted institutions, such as a government health department like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) or established organizations like the American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases (AASLD). You should avoid articles that have anonymous authors, and avoid getting information directly from a website from a company that is trying to sell you something. Academic institutions are a great place to look for information, like a local university or peer-reviewed journal articles. 

  • Review the Guidelines: There are several hepatitis B guidelines on how to prevent, treat, and manage hepatitis B. These are designed by medical experts to help doctors around the world make informed decisions about an individual’s status, and are a great source of information. While some individuals may not qualify for treatment, you can take the guidelines to your appointment and ask the doctor to explain why or why not you are a candidate for treatment at the moment. Just be sure to highlight the parts you wish to review beforehand! View the guidelines here. 

 

  • The doctor is the expert – but so are you!: Doctors can be extremely knowledgeable, but you are the one living in your own body! While hepatitis B often does not have symptoms, other factors can have an impact on your infection. One example is medication. Some medications may interact negatively with your liver, which can have an impact on the virus and result in serious consequences. If you notice any changes in your body after taking a new medication, you should alert your doctor to prevent potential liver damage. Your doctor and pharmacist should always be aware if you are living with (or have recovered from) hepatitis B so they can prescribe proper medications, but if an error occurs, it is important to speak up! 

Ensure you inform your doctor of any vitamins, supplements or herbal remedies you may be taking. Companies making these alternative therapies are not regulated so there may be no testing for quality and purity. You do not know what you’re getting from bottle to bottle or even dose to dose! Some alternative medicines can do more harm than good to your liver. 

You should always be aware of what type of doctor you are talking to as well. Some primary care doctors may be more experienced in chronic hepatitis B management than others. Gastroenterologists and hepatologists are the experts in the liver. It is recommended that individuals living with hepatitis B see a hepatologist but if this is not possible, a knowledgeable primary care doctor should be able to monitor you. If you feel that the doctor you are seeing is not experienced in managing hepatitis B, do not hesitate to ask them to review the official management guidelines with you, or to switch doctors. Your health is valuable and should be treated as such! 

When To See the Doctor Immediately

In some cases, those living with chronic hepatitis B can experience symptoms such as jaundice (yellowing of the skin or eyes), ascites (fluid in the abdomen that gives it a hard, round appearance), or severe vomiting and diarrhea. If any of these symptoms occur, it is extremely important to get to a doctor or healthcare professional as soon as possible. Severe symptoms indicate that immediate blood work is needed to prevent severe liver damage or liver failure. Remember that liver disease and liver cancer are both manageable if diagnosed early and monitored regularly, so it is important to attend regular doctor appointments, keep a clear record of your medical history, and become your own health advocate by empowering yourself with knowledge and getting involved in your care! 

Protecting Yourself From Liver Cancer While Living with Hepatitis B

This Liver Cancer Awareness Month, we are connecting the dots between hepatitis B and liver cancer. Hepatitis B is responsible for up to 60% of all liver cancer cases worldwide. In fact, some of the highest rates of liver cancer are found in places with extremely high rates of hepatitis B, such as sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia. Although liver cancer is the sixth most common cancer in the world, it is the second most common cause of cancer deaths. Liver cancer prevention should be a priority for all living with hepatitis B. Luckily, there are steps that you can take to prevent liver cancer – whether you are living with hepatitis B or not! 

The Importance of Regular Check-Ups

Did you know that a chronic hepatitis B infection can lead to liver cancer without signs of previous damage such as cirrhosis?  Many people do not realize that chronic hepatitis B is the primary global risk factor for developing liver cancer. Cirrhosis – or scarring or the liver – is often a risk factor for liver cancer, but it is not always the case for those living with hepatitis B. This is one of the reasons why it is so important for family members and sexual partners of infected individuals to get tested as well! Lack of symptoms does not mean that damage is not occurring. 

Visiting a doctor regularly is the best way to prevent liver cancer if you are living with hepatitis B. The standard recommendation for visiting your doctor is every six months however this can vary based upon the severity of your infection. The doctor will take a few blood tests, along with an ultrasound examination of the abdominal area to determine the health of the liver. Based upon these tests and other risk factors, the doctor will be able to determine if liver damage is occurring and can guide you on which steps you should take next. 

If damage is detected early enough, progression to liver cancer can be prevented through highly effective treatments that stop or slow the virus from reproducing in your liver. However, it is important to note that not everyone living with hepatitis B needs treatment. Current treatments have been proven to be most effective when there are signs of active liver damage. Hepatitis B can be managed through regular monitoring by a knowledgeable doctor and lifestyle changes that can go a long way in protecting your body. 

Early detection of liver cancer is extremely important. The average 5-year survival rate once diagnosed with liver cancer ranges from 10% -14%. However, with early detection and proper treatment, those numbers rise to over 50%! This significant difference is because if liver cancer is caught early, a doctor can link you to life-saving treatments including chemotherapy, surgical options, ablation techniques, intra-arterial therapies or a liver transplant. Regular monitoring by a knowledgeable doctor will hopefully identify the markers of liver cancer before it occurs, but if you are living with liver cancer, there are treatment options and resources available to you. 

Preventing Liver Cancer 

Educating oneself is the first step in prevention! If you have hepatitis B, be aware of the risk factors and behaviors that can increase your likelihood of liver damage and liver cancer, such as consuming alcohol and high amounts of junk food, and lack of exercise. Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD) can also increase your risk of cancer, so it is important to discuss NAFLD risk factors and prevention tips with your doctor. Groups such as the CDC Division of Viral Hepatitis and the American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases all provide free fact sheets, call lines, and literature by experts that can help you understand what may be occurring in your body and to make educated choices. You can also check out our Liver Cancer Connect resource for more information or for liver cancer support. 

The hepatitis B vaccine is also the first anti-cancer vaccine ever created! Remember that the vaccine is typically given in a set of 3 doses. It is extremely important to take all three in order to receive lifelong protection from hepatitis B-related liver cancer. In the U.S., there is also a 2-dose vaccine available, so you can be fully protected with fewer doses! If you are worried about the cost of the birth dose for your infant or the vaccine for yourself, many countries have free health clinics that can administer it or link you to an organization that can help. 

Another key to preventing liver cancer is to get tested for hepatitis B. If you have not received your vaccine and you think you fall into a high-risk group, talk to your doctor about getting tested. Because hepatitis B often has no symptoms, it is important to get screened even if you do not feel ill. An early diagnosis means that you can begin any needed treatment sooner and prevent irreversible damage from occurring. Like the vaccines, your local doctor or health clinic may be able to test you for free or reduced cost – just ask! Some local community groups also provide free hepatitis B testing, so be sure to look out for flyers and announcements about them in your community as well

Join Us For a Twitter Chat for Liver Cancer Awareness Month!

 

 

 

 

October is Liver Cancer Awareness Month. Each year in the United States, about 33,000 people get liver cancer and a large portion of liver cancer cases are caused by viral hepatitis. Viral hepatitis is preventable and when diagnosed and linked to care early, can be treated to prevent liver cancer from developing. The majority of people living with hepatitis B and hepatitis C are unaware of their status and often find out after serious damage has occurred. Liver cancer is one of the only cancers that continues to rise steadily each year. On Wednesday, October 23 at 3PM ET representatives from Hepatitis B Foundation, CDC’s Division of Viral Hepatitis, and NASTAD will co-host a twitter chat to discuss the link between liver cancer and viral hepatitis as well as the importance of engaging communities most affected, particularly patients, in our response.

A large part of our chat this year is centered upon the patient voice. The patient perspective is essential to our efforts to prevent liver cancer and improving the lives of those affected by it. Jacki Chen, one of the Hepatitis B Foundation’s #justB storytellers and Karen Hoyt, a hepatitis C patient advocate with the National Viral Hepatitis Roundtable,  will be joining this year’s twitter chat as featured guest to share their unique experiences.

Below are the questions to be discussed during the chat. How can you participate? Join the conversation that day and throughout the month with the hashtag #LiverChat19. Share any resources or strategies you have that raise awareness about the link between liver cancer and hepatitis as well as how to better engage communities most affected, particularly patients, in our work. We also encourage you to share any videos or photos you have of your work in your communities or activities during Liver Cancer Awareness Month!

· Q1: What are things everyone should know about liver cancer, and also the link between hepatitis and liver cancer?

· Q2: What can people do to prevent hepatitis, or for those living with hepatitis, what can be done to protect the liver and prevent liver cancer?

· Q3: What are the barriers that keep people from getting screened for hepatitis and liver cancer and how can they be addressed?

· Q4: Why are some communities more vulnerable to hepatitis and liver cancer, and how do we address the disparities?

· Q5: How do we engage communities most affected by hepatitis or liver cancer in our work? Why is this important?

· Q6: What resources are available to educate others about hepatitis B & C and liver cancer? What resources are needed?

· Q7: Who are your key partners in addressing liver cancer? Who would you like to engage more in your work? (Tag them here!)

· Q8: What is one lesson learned or piece of advice for others who want to expand their work on the link between viral hepatitis and liver cancer?

· Q9: Centering the voices of patients and liver cancer survivors is incredibly important in improving our response and ensuring their needs are being met. How do you do this in your work? How can we as a community do this better?

Co-hosts and featured partners of the chat include:

· Hepatitis B Foundation – @hepbfoundation

· NASTAD – @NASTAD

· CDC Division of Viral Hepatitis – @cdchep

· CDCNPIN will be moderating the chat – @cdcnpin

· Jacki Chen – @jacki0362

· Karen Hoyt – @hepatitisIhelpC

· Global Liver Institute- @GlobalLiver

· American Liver Foundation- @liverUSA

Confirmed participants and their handles include:

· National Viral Hepatitis Roundtable- @NVHR1

· Hep B United – @hepbunited

· Hep B United Philadelphia – @hepbunitedphila

· Liver Cancer Connect – @LiverCancerConn

· Hepatitis Delta Connect – @HepDConnect

· Hepatitis Education Project – @HepEduProject

· Minnesota Department of Health – @MNHealth

· Hep Free Hawaii – @HepFreeHawaii

· Hawaii Health – @HIgov_Health

· Hep Free NYC – @HepFreeNYC

· MD Anderson Cancer Center – @MDAndersonNews

· AAPCHO – @HepBPolicy

. HHS Viral Hepatitis – HHS_ViralHep

· Kiiza Alexander – @KiizaAlexander

· Minnesota Health Department – @MNHealth

·HHS Division of Viral Hepatitis – @HHS_ViralHep

·HHS Division of Viral Hepatitis – @HHS_ViralHep

·Rowaye Ridwan – @otunbaridwan

·Hassan Muhammad Bature – @Hasanb1980

·Lilian Mary Nabuya – @Inabunya

·Wenyue Lu – @lu_wenyue

·Dave Nkengeh – @Davy_Tazinkeng

·Hepatitis B Initiative of Washington D.C. – @HBIDC

· Shakur Xassan – @sheykoshee

· Temple University Center for Asian Health- @KnowCancer

· Asian Health Coalition -@CAHE_AHC

·Maryland Cancer Collaborative

Just getting started with Twitter? Do you wish to join the conversation but you don’t know how? Type #LiverChat19 in the search box of the Twitter application to follow the chat, and click on “Latest”. Email michaela.jackson@hepb.org to be added to the list of confirmed participants!

CVS Caremark : Re-Add Vemlidy To Your Formulary

UPDATE: The Hepatitis B Foundation and Hep B United, along with our network of patients, providers and partners, has successfully advocated for improved access to the hepatitis B medication Vemlidy in the US.! In July 2019 CVS Caremark – a subsidiary of CVS Health and one of the nation’s leading pharmacy benefit managers  stopped providing coverage for Vemlidy. This decision impacted thousands of Americans who rely on this life-saving drug to manage their hepatitis B.

Our members took swift action. Together, we sent over 20 letters from partner organizations and gathered over 250 individual signatures for a petition encouraging CVS Caremark to provide coverage for this essential medication. 
The company announced last week that they will resume coverage of Vemlidy for their plan members as early as October 2019! Thank you to everyone who helped us to advocate for this important change. We firmly believe that all FDA-approved medications should be available for doctors to prescribe to their patients, and this change will ensure that those on CVS Caremark plans have access to this life-saving drug.
What’s Next:
On October 1, 2019, Vemlidy will be processed for those under the Advanced Control Specialty Formulary. For those with a Value Formulary, Vemlidy will be covered beginning on January 1, 2020.
Until January 1st, Gilead Sciences – the creators of Vemlidy – will provide $1,000 a month (for up to $5,000) to offset the costs of treatment. Those interested can go to Gilead’s website and apply for a co-pay card; insurance is not needed.
Thank you to everyone who signed the petition, wrote a letter, or simply shared the information. Because of you, those who rely on Vemlidy now have one less barrier to accessing their needed treatment!

A few months ago, CVS Caremark – a subsidiary of CVS Health – announced their intentions to remove Vemlidy from their list of covered medications, or formulary. With over 2.2 million individuals in the United States living with chronic hepatitis B, this decision impacts thousands of Americans who rely on this life-saving drug to prevent cirrhosis and liver cancer.

CVS Caremark is the second-largest Pharmacy Benefits Manager (PBM) in the United States. As a PBM, Caremark manages prescription drug benefit plans for payers including health insurers and large employers. One of their main tasks is to negotiate drug prices with manufacturers and develop and maintain formularies on behalf of health insurers, which influence which drugs are available to patients on their prescription drug plan and determine out-of-pocket costs. Negotiations between PBMs and drug companies are common. However, they create a dangerous, unstable health and financial situation for those suffering from chronic illnesses.

When it comes to the treatment of chronic illnesses like hepatitis B, medical decisions are best made based upon knowledgeable and informed discussions between the doctor and the patient. After all, doctors have been tracking and monitoring how the virus impacts an individual for many months, if not years, and a patient is aware of how their body reacts to certain medications. CVS Caremark’s decision to remove Vemlidy from their formularies limits the ability of providers to make the best treatment choice for their individual hepatitis B patients.

Vemlidy is one of just three first-line hepatitis B treatments. First-line treatments are medications that have been proven to be highly effective with the least amount of side effects. For some individuals, this drug is the best option, as other FDA treatments can increase their risk of kidney disease and bone density loss. Hepatitis B expert and Medical Director of the Hepatitis B Foundation Robert G Gish, MD, notes two separate studies where tenofovir alafenamide (TAF) (Vemlidy) had lower amounts of bone density loss and kidney impairment than tenofovir disoproxil fumarate (entecavir), another first-line treatment. In order to properly help their patients, doctors need to have a full range of tools at their disposal. All FDA approved medications should be available for doctors to choose from.

The Hepatitis B Foundation’s Medical and Scientific Advisory Board is also concerned about the negative health impacts of Caremark’s decision. “TAF is less likely to cause adverse bone mineral density and renal dysfunctions than Tenofovir disoproxil fumarate (TDF). This is true not only for patients at risk of these complications but the overall hepatitis B patient population as demonstrated in clinical studies comparing TAF and TDF. By removing Vemlidy from the formulary plan, CVS Caremark is implementing a significant barrier to thousands of Americans who may need and/or rely on this drug to manage their hepatitis B….We are not advocating that all hepatitis B patients have to be treated with TAF. We believe that this decision should be made by the patient’s doctor with the patient.”

What Does This Mean: 

Now that Vemlidy has been removed from Caremark’s list of covered treatments, those living with chronic hepatitis B will either have to pay the full price or switch to another medication. To put this into perspective, the average retail price of Vemlidy is $1,350 USD a month. The average cash price reached $1,650 USD in July. There is no generic version of the drug. Like other hepatitis B treatments, Vemlidy must be taken daily over the course of several years to be effective; an individual paying the average retail price would have to pay approximately $16,200 a year to access their medication.

Others will be forced to change from Vemlidy to a similar treatment that is cheaper, but may be less effective with safety issues. This practice is known as non-medical switching: when insurers or PBMs make changes to a formulary primarily due to financial negotiations with manufacturers, in exchange for greater market share.

According to the Alliance for Patient Access, non-medical switching is associated with poor health outcomes. One of their recent studies found that patients who had been switched off their preferred medication experienced complications from the new medication. One in 10 reported being hospitalized for complications after the switch, approximately 40% stopped taking their medication completely, and 60% reported side effects from the new medication. These complications are extremely dangerous for individuals taking hepatitis B medication, as stopping suddenly and without consulting an expert can cause the virus to flare and increase the risk of liver disease, and liver cancer.

Taking Action

Hep B United (HBU) – a program of the Hepatitis B Foundation and a national coalition of over 40 organizations – has started a petition and will be sending a letter to CVS Caremark.

Individuals can ask CVS Caremark to reinstate Vemlidy by signing this petition! Organizations can add their names to HBU’s official letter commenting on Caremark’s decision. We hope that CVS Caremark will honor their commitment to the health of Americans and add Vemlidy back on their formularies!

Hemochromatosis: Treatment, the Liver, and Hepatitis B

Genetic conditions can be an unfortunate part of life, but with information and support, some can be managed. By sharing your family health history and learning about genetic disorders that run in the family, measures can be taken to prevent damage and help your loved ones stay healthy!

Hereditary hemochromatosis is one of the most common genetic disorders. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that approximately 80-90% of hemochromatosis cases are from the hereditary form of the condition1. Due to a mutation in the HFE gene, the body begins to produce too much iron – a process

Northern European Countries

called iron overload. Iron overload can cause complications in the liver, heart, and pancreas2. According to the National Organization for Rare Disorders (NORD), hereditary hemochromatosis has several names that all refer to the same disorder: bronze diabetes, classic hemochromatosis, hemochromatosis type I, hemosiderosis, HFE-related hemochromatosis, HH, and primary hemochromatosis. The two non-hereditary forms of hemochromatosis are secondary hemochromatosis and neonatal hemochromatosis. Both are considered to be rare. Although the hereditary form is common, the exact number of patients worldwide is unknown. Globally, it is estimated that 1 in 227 individuals of Northern European descent is living with hemochromatosis. In the U.S, an estimated 1 million individuals are impacted as well 2

Not everyone who has the mutant gene develops hemochromatosis. These individuals are known as “carriers”; they can pass the gene on without suffering from the symptoms. Symptoms include joint pain, fatigue, abdominal pain, unexplained weight loss, and a bronze or grey skin color. For most patients, symptoms do not appear until middle age (40-60) because it takes time for the iron to build up in the body. Males tend to be affected more often than women and experience symptoms at a younger age as well 3,2. Some carriers for the mutant gene may develop a more severe version of the disorder called juvenile hemochromatosis. With juvenile hemochromatosis, patients experience an excessive amount of iron overload that can lead to liver and heart damage between the ages of 15 and 30.

Hemochromatosis, the Liver, and Hepatitis B

While the body needs a certain amount of iron to function, iron overload can be dangerous.  Hemochromatosis can lead to two major liver issues: hepatomegaly and cirrhosis. Hepatomegaly is the enlargement of the liver and cirrhosis is the scarring of the liver. Both issues can impair the liver’s ability to function and filter out toxins that enter the body. They can also increase a person’s risk of developing liver cancer. Recently, two major studies by the University of Exeter and the U.K. University of Connecticut, and the U.S. National Institute on Aging have found that a person living with hemochromatosis has four times the risk of developing a liver disease than a person who is living with the disorder.

For individuals living with hepatitis B, it is extremely important to understand any behaviors or conditions that may have a negative impact on your liver. Since one liver disease can increase your risk of another liver disease, it is important to identify the disorder as early as possible, especially if you have any of the following risk factors:

Risk Factors for Hereditary Hemochromatosis:

  • Men or postmenopausal women
  • Of Northern European descent
  • Having a relative with hemochromatosis

Risk Factors for Secondary Hemochromatosis:

  • Alcoholism
  • Family history of diabetes, heart disease, or liver disease
  • Taking iron or vitamin C supplements

Hepatitis B patients do not have an increased risk of developing hemochromatosis4. However, if you have any of the above risk factors, it is important to get tested. Hemochromatosis can easily be identified by a comprehensive look at a person’s family health history, a physical exam, and a simple blood sample. Your doctor will then use the blood sample to run a series of tests that may include transferrin saturation (TS), serum ferritin, or liver function tests. In certain cases, the doctor may also perform genetic testing to see if the mutant HFE gene is present.

Treatment

Treatment for hemochromatosis is available! Based up tests results, family history, medical history, and the appearance of symptoms, the doctor may suggest a few different treatment methods. In therapeutic phlebotomy – the most common treatment method – a patient undergoes regular blood draw to lower the amount of iron in the body. This method is effective, affordable, and typically lasts for an extended period of time. Through iron chelation therapy, patients can either receive an injection or orally consume a medication that will lower the amount of iron in your blood. Finally, some doctors may suggest changes to your diet, such as eating less vitamin C, avoiding alcohol and shellfish, and not taking iron supplements. Dietary changes are mainly used to prevent liver damage.

For more information on HH, you can visit the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.

References:

  1. Grosse, S. (2017). A New Public Health Assessment of the Disease Burden of Hereditary Hemochromatosis: How Clinically Actionable is C282Y Homozygosity? [Blog]. Retrieved from https://blogs-origin.cdc.gov/genomics/2017/08/16/a-new-public-health-assessment/
  2. National Organization for Rare Disorders. (2019). Classic Hereditary Hemochromatosis. Retrieved from https://rarediseases.org/rare-diseases/classic-hereditary-hemochromatosis/#general-discussion
  3. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. (2019). Hemochromatosis. Retrieved from https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/liver-disease/hemochromatosis
  4. Beaton, M., & Adams, P. (2007). The Myths and Realities of Hemochromatosis. Canadian Journal Of Gastroenterology, 21(2), 101-104. doi: 10.1155/2007/619401