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Liver Health & The Holidays: How to Stay Healthy with Hep B

The holiday season is here once again! It’s often a time filled with love and happiness, but for those living with chronic illnesses like hepatitis B, this time of year can be uncomfortable and stressful. The most important thing to remember is that your health – physical and mental – should come first. 

Alcohol is usually present at holiday gatherings and can be difficult to avoid. However, it is also extremely damaging to the liver – especially if you are living with a liver disease like hepatitis B. It may be tempting, but avoiding all alcohol, including small amounts, is best for the health of your liver. Focus on the conversation and catching up with your coworkers or friends instead of the drinks!  If you feel pressured, you can carry around a cup of another beverage, such as sparkling water or juice, to bypass any questions about why you are choosing not to drink. 

The holidays are also filled with sugary treats and foods that are high in unhealthy fats. Too many sugary, processed, and fatty foods (and drinks) are harmful and can contribute to liver diseases such as Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver. When combined with hepatitis B, liver diseases can make your risk of liver damage and liver cancer even greater, so it is extremely important to maintain a balance of healthy foods and exercise. A few treats here and there will not harm you, but moderation is key! Try eating smaller portions of dessert and keep holiday sweets out of your house to avoid temptation. If you were gifted a delicious, but unhealthy snack, share it with friends and family!  

If you are preparing a meal or a dish for your celebrations, make it a healthy one! The American Liver Foundation has a great fact sheet on how to read the nutrition label on food packing. This will help you make better choices while you are food shopping. Try using healthier alternatives to ingredients, such as butter, that may be high in cholesterol or fats, and experiment with using more spices instead of salt to add flavor to the meal. 

Be sure to stay active during the holidays! Exercise is one of the best ways to maintain a healthy weight and reduce the risk of liver cancer. Grab a friend and take a walk or head to the gym. This is a great way to keep your fitness routine, encourage your friends to stay healthy, and catch up with those you haven’t seen in a while! If you don’t want to leave the comfort of your home or if you prefer to work out alone, you can also stay active by following along to exercise videos on Youtube. 

Remember that everything that you consume is filtered through your liver; your liver never gets a break! The lifestyle tips listed above may seem simple, but they have a large, positive impact on your health. Sticking to a regular healthy routine even during the holiday season will make it easier to continue those habits all year long! You can also check out our healthy liver tips to see what other actions can be taken to protect your liver.

Holidays with Hepatitis B: How to Tell Your Family

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As the holidays approach, families are planning parties and dinners and preparing to spend time with their loved ones. In such a merry atmosphere, the idea of discussing hepatitis B – whether its a recent diagnosis or the first time that you are ready to disclose your status – may be intimidating. However, it doesn’t have to be! In honor of  National Family Health History Day – which falls on Thanksgiving – we put together some tips to help you start the conversation.

 

  • Start Small – Facing your entire family at once can be frightening in any situation. Consider pulling one or two family members that you trust aside and speak with them first. They might offer advice on how to tell the rest of the family.
  • Come PreparedAlthough chronic hepatitis B is the world’s most common risk factor for liver cancer, there is a universal lack of education and awareness about the infection. Use our fact sheets to help your loved ones understand what hepatitis B is, how it impacts your liver, and what it means to live with it.  For more fact sheets and to view them in different languages, click here. Be sure to let your family know that hepatitis B is spread by direct blood contact, not through casual interactions. They cannot be infected by sharing the same utensils as you, eating food prepared by you, or casual touches such as hugging.
  • Be EncouragingMost people who are diagnosed with hepatitis B live long, healthy lives! Let your family know that you are monitoring the infection and taking the necessary precautions to prevent liver damage. Your family will be happy to know that you are in control of your health!
  • Let them know how to helpAlthough you may be able to
    Image courtesy of Canva

    manage hepatitis B by yourself, creating a support network is always a good idea! Do you have any active family members?  Exercise is great for the liver, so ask them to come along next time you go for a bike ride or hit the gym! Maybe you know someone who is great at cooking. Try cooking some healthy meals together!

  • Give them timeHearing about a medical diagnosis can be difficult for everyone involved and may also be a sensitive topic for some. Don’t let this discourage you! Try showing them a few of our #justB campaign videos, which feature real people who have been impacted by hepatitis B. Some stories, like Alan’s, discuss how people often do not realize that hepatitis B and liver cancer are related. Other stories, like Alice’s, showcase the importance of being honest with your loved ones and explain how to turn a diagnosis into an educational opportunity. Viewing  #justB stories might help your family members feel more comfortable talking about the infection and encourage them to learn their own hepatitis B status.

National Family Health History Day

Image courtesy of Canva

In 2004, the Surgeon General declared Thanksgiving Day to be National Family Health History Day. It’s meant as a time for families to discuss health issues that appear to run in the family. While hepatitis B cannot be passed from generation to generation like genetic diseases, it is commonly spread within families due to how the virus is transmitted. The most common mode of transmission is from mother-to-child during childbirth, often because the mother was unaware that she was infected and that certain precautions needed to be taken to prevent transmission to the baby. As hepatitis B rarely has any symptoms, many people do not discover that they are infected until a family member is diagnosed or they develop liver damage.  Approaching the topic and starting the conversation can help to break this cycle of transmission within families.

The good news is that hepatitis B is preventable and, if detected early, liver damage can be prevented! Offer to help your loved ones make an appointment with their doctor or to accompany them when they go to get tested or vaccinated; they’ll appreciate the extra support!  

Also, consider making some time this Thanksgiving to fill out My Family Health Portrait – a free tool that maps out your family’s history of health conditions and identifies what you may be at risk for.

The topic of health is important all year round; you don’t have to wait for the holiday season to bring it up! Start the conversation today and help your family find the information they need to protect themselves and stay healthy!

 

Celebrating the Holidays with Hepatitis B

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The holidays are a joyous time as family and friends gather for parties, dinners and get-togethers. However, they can also be a difficult, stressful time on so many levels, and especially for those who might not yet have disclosed their hepatitis B to loved ones.  You may have been recently diagnosed, or decided this is the year you’re going to let them know about your status. If you’re not there yet, that’s okay, but consider making this the year you choose to disclose.

Enjoy and celebrate the holiday cheer, but …alcoholic beverages may be an issue during this time, and it may be tempting to indulge. The most important thing to do is not pick up that drink no matter what! Hepatitis B and alcohol is a dangerous combination. Here are some tips that may help you politely refuse a drink:

  • Practice saying no
  • Prepare a reason for not drinking (i.e., “Sorry, I’m taking mediation and I can’t drink.” or “My stomach is upset and I want to enjoy all this food.”)
  • Leave the event early if you feel uncomfortable.
  • Find others who are not drinking.
  • Choose a non-alcoholic drink – sparkling water with fruit is a healthy option!
  • Volunteer to be the designated driver. You may suddenly find you have many friends!

You might want to think long and hard about disclosing your status to coworkers and acquaintances.  Only you know for sure, but family and close friends can become a new source of support for you moving forward. If the holidays inspire you to share your status, you may start with talking about your family’s health history. Even though hepatitis B is not genetic and does not run in families like some other chronic diseases, it is possible that you may have hepatitis B because you were exposed to it from an infected family member, possibly at birth or by accidental household exposure; 90% of babies and 50% of young children who were infected with hepatitis B become chronically infected. It is also important to talk about hepatitis B if there is a history of liver disease and cancer in your family. Having hepatitis B can put you at an increased risk of developing liver disease and liver cancer during your lifetime.

Here are some other considerations:

  • Choose a time when there will not be too many distractions.
  • Think about whether your loved ones will be open and accepting.
  • Bring up an interesting fact to open up the conversation.
  • Ask a relative about their health history.
  • Try to break stereotypes surrounding hepatitis B.
  • Encourage your family members to get tested, vaccinated, or treated.
  • Family members may mention that “an uncle had liver problems”, or “died of cancer”, but not know if it was related to hepatitis B.
  • Be prepared with a printed fact sheet or video from the Hepatitis B Foundation or material from the Know Hepatitis B campaign!

Disclosure can be scary and make you anxious! When you are disclosing to a loved one, their response is out of your control, but their response might surprise you. Be prepared with simple explanations about hepatitis B. A Google search may highlight frightening statistics, so be sure to reassure loved ones that HBV is controllable and manageable.

Take a look at the videos from our #justB storytellers about how HBV has impacted their lives, and share them with family members. We must all do what we can to break the silence about hepatitis B so we can get more people tested and into care, and reduce stigma and discrimination!

For more tips on how to navigate the holidays with hepatitis B, check out our previous post here.