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Hepatitis B: Treatment, symptoms, advice and help

About hepatitis B

Hepatitis B is an illness of immense public health importance. It is a viral infection of the liver presenting as jaundice and abnormal liver function tests. It is a communicable disease and can be effectively prevented.

Hepatitis B: Incidence, age and sex

Hepatitis B is prevalent globally and it is estimated that 350 million people are infected worldwide. It is common in South America, Central and Eastern Europe and South-eat Asia. It is relatively less frequent in Western Europe and North America.

Signs and symptoms of hepatitis B: Diagnosis

Hepatitis B presents with malaise, tiredness and low grade temperature which is followed by appearance of jaundice. Jaundice is defined as yellowish discolouration of skin and eyes along with passage of high-coloured urine. Usually, there is profound loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting and upper abdominal pain. There may also be itching all over the body as a result of stagnation of bile in the small ducts of liver (canaliculi). Hepatitis B can also be asymptomatic. On examination apart from jaundice, there is usually enlargement of liver. Signs of dehydration like dry eyes and dry tongue may be exhibited. Blood tests may reveal rise in bilirubin and liver enzymes. Specific blood tests to detect viral antigens are used to diagnose hepatitis B. The most commonly used test is hepatitis B, surface antigen also known as Australia antigen.

Causes and prevention of hepatitis B

Hepatitis B is caused by a viral infection which is transmitted through infected blood, infected needles and syringes and sexual intercourse. It can be prevented by use of sterile syringes and needles, use of properly tested blood products, safe sexual practices (use of condoms) and timely vaccination. Hepatitis B vaccine is usually given as a course of three injections over six months, with a booster dose every five years.

Hepatitis B: Complications

The acute complications of hepatitis B include dehydration, malnutrition and general ill health. Acute hepatitis B can progress to chronic hepatitis and cirrhosis of liver. There may be increased pressure in portal veins leading to vomiting of large amount of blood. Large amount of fluid can accumulate in abdomen (ascitis). In advanced liver failure, the patient can have neurological and behavioural problems and may be quite incapacitated (hepatic coma). Chronic hepatitis B infection can lead to development of cancer of liver after two or three decades.

Hepatitis B: Treatment

The treatment of acute hepatitis B involves adequate fluid intake, ensuring hydration, administration of drugs to control vomiting, maintaining proper nutrition and avoidance of alcohol or any drug known to damage liver. The complications of liver failure should be managed appropriately. Chronic hepatitis B is usually treated with antiviral agents like interferon and lamivudine.