Millions of Americans have liver inflammation due to a hepatitis infection. And while many people think of hepatitis as a single disease, there are actually several forms with different causes and different treatments.
Treating hepatitis early is essential for preventing permanent liver damage and liver failure. Our team at Digestive Disease Specialists, with locations in Moline, Illinois, and Davenport, Iowa, has extensive experience in both diagnosing and treating hepatitis in all its forms.
In this blog, we explain five common types of hepatitis, including their causes, symptoms, and treatments.
You can get infected with hepatitis A by eating or drinking food or water that’s contaminated with the hepatitis A virus (HAV) or by having oral-to-anal contact. Like other types of hepatitis, hepatitis A causes liver swelling, but fortunately, it almost never leads to long-term problems, such as chronic liver disease.
Hepatitis A usually clears up on its own over time with supportive care and some lifestyle changes, such as avoiding alcohol. There’s a vaccine that can help prevent hepatitis A, and it’s recommended for kids and at-risk adults. You can also reduce your risk of infection by practicing good hand-washing habits.
Hepatitis B is spread through contact with contaminated body fluids, such as saliva, semen, blood, and other fluids. The CDC says at least 850,000 Americans have hepatitis B, but because many people don’t know they have the virus, that number could be as high as 2.2 million.
Hepatitis B can cause long-term problems, including liver disease and liver cancer. Antiviral medications can help fight the virus and slow the progression of disease.
Because infections often don’t cause symptoms until liver damage is underway, having a blood test can help diagnose a hepatitis B infection sooner, but not everyone needs to be tested. Ask your provider if you need to be tested based on your risk factors.
Hepatitis C is the most common bloodborne pathogen infection in the United States, affecting at least 2.4 million Americans. Like hepatitis B, hepatitis C is spread through contact with infected blood or other bodily fluids. However, unlike hepatitis B, hepatitis C is rarely transmitted during sex.
Hepatitis C can cause lifelong liver problems, including liver scarring, and it can also increase your risk of developing liver cancer. However, today there are antiviral drugs that are highly effective in treating and even eradicating the virus.
Hepatitis D is interesting, because you can only get this type of hepatitis if you’re already infected with hepatitis B. Worldwide, about 5% of people who have a hepatitis B infection also have hepatitis D.
Hepatitis D is spread through unprotected sex with an infected person, sharing infected needles, or having contact with infected blood. Like other types of hepatitis, hepatitis D causes the liver to swell.
Hepatitis D is generally treated with self-care. The best way to prevent hepatitis D is by getting vaccinated for hepatitis B and avoiding unsafe exposures.
Hepatitis E is very uncommon in the United States. Hepatitis E is spread through contact with contaminated food or water or via oral-to-anal sex, just like hepatitis A. Hepatitis E causes liver swelling, but typically, the virus clears up without causing permanent liver damage.
There is no hepatitis E vaccine, and currently, the best way to protect yourself is to wash your hands thoroughly and avoid drinking tap water while traveling, especially in areas where contamination is a known problem.
Other types of hepatitis can be caused by medications or autoimmune disorders. Our team uses advanced techniques to diagnose hepatitis so care can be targeted at the underlying cause.
Hepatitis testing and treatment
The CDC recommends hepatitis C testing for all adults up to age 79 and hepatitis B testing for people at risk for infection. If you're pregnant, you may also need to be tested to ensure you don’t unwittingly pass an infection on to your unborn baby.
If you’ve been diagnosed with hepatitis, ongoing treatment tailored and adjusted to your needs is imperative for preserving your liver and avoiding serious and even life-threatening compilations. In addition to antiviral drugs, treating some hepatitis infections may require steroids, autoimmune medications, or even liver transplantation.
To learn more about hepatitis screening and treatment, request an appointment online or over the phone with Digestive Disease Specialists today.