With a new year right around the corner, now is a great time to reflect upon the past year and plan for the one ahead! 2020 is the start of a new era, but it also means that we have just 10 more years left to reach the World Health Organization’s 2030 goal of eliminating viral hepatitis. Many strides have been made over the years. In order to truly work towards elimination, we need everyone’s help – including yours!
Take Care of Your Health: The hepatitis B virus and your liver health can change over time, making regular doctors’ appointments essential to staying healthy and preventing liver disease and possibly liver cancer. Take a few hours this January to sit down and schedule your healthcare appointments for the year. Following up with your healthcare provider will allow them to monitor the infection, identify any signs of liver damage, and prescribe treatment early, if needed, to prevent further damage.
If you were diagnosed with acute hepatitis B and recovered, there are steps you can take to take care of your health too! You – and your healthcare providers – should be aware of the risk of reactivation, and how to prevent it. Always read the warning labels on over-the-counter medications, and make sure that anyone prescribing medication to you is aware of your past infection.
Get involved: Researchers are working hard each day to find a cure for hepatitis B and while they do so, there are many other issues in the hepatitis B community that can be addressed with the help of people like you! If you are in the United States, you can join ouradvocacy network to be notified of opportunities to take action. If you are located in another country, get involved with the #NOhep campaign, or search for World Hepatitis Alliance members near you to see what activities you can take part in. It’s essential for us to work both within our own country and globally. When we work together, our voices will be heard!
Get tested – or encourage others to: Despite being the most common liver disease in the world, just 10% of those infected are aware that they are living with hepatitis B. It is very important that people with hepatitis B are tested – especially because hepatitis B does not have any symptoms. Start small by encouraging your family members and loved ones to get tested or offering to go with a friend to their doctor’s appointment. If you want to help on a larger scale, you can volunteer with local health organizations who are active in the hepatitis community.
Perhaps your friends and family have already been tested and found out that they are not – and have never been – infected. That’s great! Now, it’s time to make sure that they get vaccinated to protect themselves. Remind them to schedule an appointment to receive their vaccine, and check in on them to make sure that they receive all necessary doses. Increasing global vaccination rates – especially in high-risk communities – is essential to meeting the 2030 elimination goals.
Put Your Social Media to Good Use: Technology is one of the best and most powerful communication tools that we have. Consider spreading positive, accurate messaging about hepatitis B in the new year to help destigmatize the disease, raise awareness, and combat false information. Start simple by liking, retweeting, and sharing posts by groups that are working hard to educate others! Be sure to follow reputable organizations so that the information you are receiving and passing on is correct! Join the Hepatitis B Foundation community on Facebook,Twitter, and Instagram for international updates and Hep B United on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for hepatitis B information in the United States!
For those of you who may be struggling to cope with your diagnosis or are dealing with stigma and discrimination around your diagnosis, the suggestions above may not be for you. Instead, consider taking 2020 to empower yourself by learning more about hepatitis B and sharing your experiences, even if you are only comfortable sharing anonymously. Remember, you are not alone! Over 292 million individuals are living with hepatitis B and each person has a story to tell.
The only way to fight stigma and discrimination is to make it known that it is unacceptable. Many of our #justB storytellers have faced the same obstacles that others are currently going through. Take some time in 2020 to watch some of our #justB storytelling videos that share the journeys of brave men and women who have found the strength to speak about their diagnosis and how hepatitis B has impacted their lives or family. Other global storytelling campaigns, such as the World Hepatitis Alliance’s #StigmaStops Campaign, or online support groups can provide support, too. However you decide to contribute to eliminating hepatitis B, your efforts will be appreciated!
If you are living with chronic hepatitis B, you may feel as though you are not in control of your health, but that’s not true! Small changes to your daily life can go a long way towards improving your liver health and may even prevent liver damage from occurring. Here are five New Year’s resolutions to help you start 2019 off right!
Kick Your Old Habits to the Curb: Still smoking? Time to leave that behind! Old habits can be hard to break, but staying healthy is important. Did you know that insurance plans in the United States must cover smoking cessation programs through preventive care under the Affordable Care Act? This means that copayments and coinsurance can’t be applied to these programs. Taking the first step is better for your liver and your wallet!
Cook More: Cooking can be a lot of work, but it can also be fun! Regularly eating fast-food and highly processed meals are bad for your liver and can leave you feeling lethargic, so try switching things up. Consider signing up for a cooking class with your friends or family to learn some new tricks in the kitchen. You don’t have to make every meal from scratch; start by making one or two fresh meals a week and increase them as you feel more confident. Don’t know where to start? Try one of these recipes – desserts included! There is no standard diet for chronic hepatitis B patients, but the American Cancer Society’s low fat, low cholesterol, and high fiber meal ideas are a good, general diet to follow.
Write it Down: It can be difficult to remember all of the things
that you have to do and important tasks – like scheduling your doctor appointments – can get lost in the shuffle. Make 2019 the year that you start to write things down. Physically writing itemsdown increases your chances of remembering them, so skip the Notes application on your phone and grab a piece of paper!
Make Some Time For Yourself: Stress is bad for every part of your body – including the liver – so it is important to make some time for yourself. Set a few hours aside each week to do an activity that you enjoy. If you have the resources, you may want to consider planning a vacation or taking a small weekend trip. Even if you can’t get away, set a goal to spend more time outdoors. Green spaces, such as an urban park or a forest, have been known to lower stress levels and can help manage weight, which is an important part of maintaining liver health.
Get Active: Exercising more might be one of the most common New Year’s resolutions, but it is also one of the most important ones! If you’re tired of going to the gym or bored with your old routine, try your hand at an exercise you hadn’t considered before. Yoga, pilates, running, and kickboxing are just a few
examples of fun workouts that you can add to your exercise catalog and can be done outside of a typical gym setting. If you’re looking for affordable exercise options, be sure to check out some of the free exercise videos you can find on YouTube. You can also try hiking at your local park or joining a local community center!
New Year’s resolutions can be difficult to keep, especially if you are trying to do them all at once. The important part is to begin! If you are having trouble meeting your goals, pick one to start with and add another goal once it becomes a part of your routine.
How are your New Years’ Resolutions going? When you were making your resolutions, did you consider hepatitis B specific New Year’s resolutions? Here are a few ideas…
Make an appointment to see your liver specialist. If you have hepatitis B, and you are not being seen regularly by a liver specialist, or a doctor knowledgeable about hepatitis B every six months, then make the commitment to do so this year. It is important to know and keep track of your HBV status and your liver health. Check out HBF’s Directory of Liver Specialists. We do not have names and contact information for all countries, so please feel free to share your favorite liver specialist with the HBV community. Make an appointment today!
Organize your hepatitis B lab dataand make a table with the date of the blood draw and the associated blood test results. You’ll want to start by requesting copies of all of your labs from your doctor. Then you can generate data tables using Excel, Word or a pencil and paper table for your charted data. It will help you visualize your HBV over time, and you may find your doctor likes to see both the lab results and your table of results.
Generate a list of questionsfor your next appointment with your liver specialist. People get nervous anticipating what their doctor might say about their health. It is very easy to forget those important questions, so be sure to write them down, or add them to a note app on your phone or tablet. If the option is available, have a family member or friend attend the appointment with you. That will allow you to pay closer attention while your friend or family member takes notes for you.
Avoid the use of alcohol. Hepatitis B and alcohol is a dangerous combination. An annual toast to the New Year? Sure. Drinking daily, weekly or even monthly? Not a good idea. Binge drinking? Dangerous. A studyshows an increased risk for liver cancer among cirrhotic patients with HBV. Don’t let it get that far. If you have HBV and you are still drinking alcohol, seek the help you need to stop.
Exercise. Many people think that having a chronic illness precludes them from exercise. This is rarely the case, but if you have concerns, talk to your doctor. If you consistently exercise, keep up the good work. If you don’t, please start slowly and work your way up to a more strenuous routine, and follow general physical activity guidelines for adults. Join a gym or find an exercise buddy. Don’t compare yourself to others and work at your own pace. Set realistic workout goals. You don’t need to run a marathon. Brisk, daily walking is great, too. You may find that you experience both physical and emotional benefits, and if you exercise with friends, you’ll also benefit socially. Clinical and experimental studiesshow that physical exercise helps prevent the progression of liver cancer and improves quality of life. It also helps prevent the development of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD or “fatty liver”. Get moving. It’s good for your overall health and specifically your liver!
Maintain a healthy weight by eating a well-balanced diet.This is a favorite on the New Year’s Resolution list for just about everyone with or without HBV. You can’t prevent or cure HBV with a healthy diet, but it does help by preventing additional problems like the onset of fatty liver disease or diabetes. If you’ve been following trending health problems, then you are well aware that fatty liver disease and type 2 diabetes are huge problems both in the U.S. and around the globe. Fatty liver disease and type 2 diabetes can often be prevented with a healthy diet and regular exercise. Start by avoiding fast foods, and processed foods. Cut down on fatty foods and sweets. Sugar (fructose) is not your friend. Avoid sugary treats and drinks with sugar, including sodas and fruit juices. Reduce the amount of saturated fats, trans fats and hydrogenated fats in your diet. Saturated fats are found in deep-fried foods, red and fatty cuts of meats and dairy products. Trans and hydrogenated fats are found in processed foods. With fatty liver disease, fat accumulates in the liver and increases inflammation. If you have hepatitis B, you want to avoid any additional complications that may arise with fatty liver disease. Diabetes and HBV together can also be very complicated. So what should you eat? Eat plenty of fresh vegetables, fresh fruits, whole grains, fish and lean meats, and whole grains. Eat brown rice, whole wheat breads and pastas, instead of white rice, bread and pasta. Go back to the basics! If you have specific questions about your diet, be sure to talk to your doctor.
Don’t worry, be happy… Easy to say, but not so easy to accomplish. Anxietyand depression associated with a chronic illness are challenging problems that may be short term, or can worm their way into nearly every aspect of your life. They can even create physical symptoms that may be confusing and may result in even more worry. Please talk to your doctor if you believe your anxiety or depression is something you are unable to manage on your own. Consider joining a support group where you can talk to others facing the same challenges. Personally, I found the Hepatitis B Information and Support List a wonderful source of information and support. Chronic illness can feel very lonely – especially with a disease like HBV that has a stigma associated with it. Find a trusted confident with whom you can share your story.