Millions of Americans have chronic hepatitis, a serious liver disease that can have life-threatening complications. Just as concerning is that as many as two-thirds of those infected with viral hepatitis don’t even know they’re infected, and that means they’re not being treated.
Although hepatitis is certainly serious, many people lead healthy lives despite their diagnosis. The key is getting medical treatment as early as possible — and learning all about the disease and its treatment.
At Digestive Disease Specialists, with locations in Moline, Illinois, and Davenport, Iowa, our gastroenterology experts help patients with hepatitis manage their symptoms and improve their liver health. If you’ve been diagnosed with hepatitis, here’s what our team wants you to know.
Hepatitis is a disease that causes liver inflammation. Excessive alcohol use, exposure to certain toxins or medications, and autoimmune disorders can all cause hepatitis. But the most common cause of hepatitis is a viral infection.
There are five primary types of viral hepatitis. Each is caused by a different type of virus, and each is transmitted through blood or other bodily fluids. Even the most serious types can begin acutely, but at some point, many patients develop chronic illness as a result of the infection.
This is an acute form of hepatitis that typically clears up on its own or with medical treatment. Hepatitis A rarely causes severe health problems.
The United States Department of Health and Human Services (HSS) estimates that about 850,000 people have hepatitis B, although that number could be as high as 2.2 million. About two-thirds of those infected with hepatitis B don’t know they have the virus.
Hepatitis C is one of the most common blood infections in the United States, affecting between 2.5 million-4.7 million Americans. More than half of those infected don’t know they have the virus, and data shows the number of infections is rapidly increasing.
Hepatitis D is uncommon in the United States. While it causes liver inflammation like other types of hepatitis, it can only occur in people who are already infected with hepatitis B.
This type of hepatitis is associated with contaminated water supplies (typically contaminated with fecal matter). Infections of this type rarely occur in the United States.
Hepatitis and your health
At Digestive Disease Specialists, our team offers antiviral medicines to treat and, ideally, eliminate viral hepatitis infections. You’ll also need to have regular blood tests to monitor the health and function of your liver.
There are also steps you can take to manage your symptoms and help your liver stay healthy.
Watch your diet
Cut out alcohol and fatty foods, both of which can put added stress on your liver. Quitting smoking is also important for maintaining liver health.
Ask about medicines and supplements
Your liver acts as a “chemical factory” and a filter for many medications. Before taking any over-the-counter medicines, prescription drugs, or vitamin supplements, ask your doctor how it could potentially affect your liver so changes or substitutions can be made if needed.
Get plenty of rest
Your body uses a lot of resources to battle infections, and fatigue is a common symptom for many people with hepatitis. Adopt good sleep hygiene habits and work in naps when you can.
Exercise is important for physical healing responses and for feeling better emotionally, too. Since hepatitis infections can take a toll on your body, it’s a good idea to discuss exercise options with your doctor to find activities that promote wellness without over-tiring you. Regular, gentle walks are a great way to get started.
Learn to reduce stress
Living with a chronic disease can be stressful and depressing. If you’re struggling with the emotional impact of your disease, ask your doctor about treatment options.
Join a support group
Many people diagnosed with hepatitis feel alone and isolated. Connecting with others who are going through many of the same things can be a powerful way to cope. Ask your doctor for recommendations, or look for a reputable support group online.
Get your loved ones tested and vaccinated
Currently, vaccines are available to prevent hepatitis A and B. There is no vaccine available for hepatitis C. Encourage your loved ones to get vaccinated and to find out if they need to be tested.
Living well with hepatitis
Being diagnosed with hepatitis can be nerve-racking, but there are ways to optimize your health and reduce your risks for complications. To learn more about hepatitis treatment at Digestive Disease Specialists, book an appointment online or over the phone today.