Do You Know the Early Signs of Hepatitis?
Hepatitis exists in five basic forms: hepatitis A, B, C, D and E. In the United States, hepatitis A, B, and C are the most common. Globally, the disease is responsible for more than 1.3 million deaths per year, and approximately 1.75 million people acquire hepatitis C every year.
You are at risk of hepatitis A if you live with, have close personal contact with or have sex with an infected person (the virus is spread through a person’s blood or other bodily fluids). The disease can also be spread through contaminated food or water.
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The hepatitis C virus, also known as HCV, can be spread through contaminated blood. In the past, blood transfusions and the sharing of needles were among the main causes of HCV.
According to a CDC report, older adults born between 1945 and 1965 are five times as likely to have hepatitis as younger adults – during the seventies and eighties minimal testing was performed. Also, in the past, donated blood and organs were not screened as thoroughly as they are today.
It has been estimated that as many as 75 percent of those affected with hepatitis are of the older generation. Younger people are also at risk if they have close personal contact with a senior who is carrying the disease.
Importance of Understanding and Acting on the Early Signs of Hepatitis
Should you discover that you are a carrier, it is vital that you take the necessary steps to prevent the disease from spreading. If you have recently acquired the disease, treatments are available. However, time is of the essence (if you wait too long, you may suffer liver damage). If you discover that you have a form of hepatitis that has progressed to the chronic stage, it is important that you learn how to manage the disease.
You could unknowingly be participating in activities that exacerbate some of the effects of the disease. For instance, persons who have hepatitis should avoid alcohol, because it can damage the liver and make it harder for a person’s body to fight the infection. Poor diets can also have a negative impact.
Should you discover that you have hepatitis, though, you can begin to adopt a diet and lifestyle that is beneficial to counteract the effects of the disease.
Early Signs and Symptoms of Hepatitis
Unlike many other illnesses, most people with hepatitis C do not even realize that they have it. As many as 80 percent of all people affected with hepatitis C have no symptoms. When symptoms do occur, they tend to appear within a few weeks or a few months. There are multiple signs and symptoms associated with Hepatitis. Here are a few of them:
- Feelings of Exhaustion
- Poor appetite
- Sore muscles
- Stomach pain
- Joint pain
- Dark urine
- Itchy skin
Many people who have acute hepatitis C show no signs or symptoms and will go on to develop chronic Hepatitis C. In some cases, an infection can last 15 years or more without being diagnosed.
Treatment options for hepatitis include antiviral medications, liver transplants, and vaccinations.
Antiviral medications can be effective in treating hepatitis. These pills are usually taken once per day and work very well at attacking the virus and preventing it from multiplying. The goal of such medications is to clear a person’s body of the virus, stop or slow down damage to a person’s liver and reduce the chance of developing cirrhosis, which involves scarring of the liver.
These medications also help to reduce the change of developing liver cancer and the need for a transplant due to liver failure. Recently, new direct-acting antiviral medications have produced better outcomes, shorter treatment times and fewer side effects. The choice of medications depends on such things as a person’s medical condition, the amount of existing liver damage and any prior treatments.
When hepatitis has progressed to the point that it has caused significant liver damage or liver failure, it may be necessary to consider a liver transplant. During such a procedure, a surgeon will remove your liver and replace it with one that has been donated from a deceased or living donor. However, the replacement is only the first step in curing the disease, because the virus is likely to return if additional steps are not taken, such as going on a regimen of post-surgery antiviral medications designed to prevent damage to the transplanted liver.
New medications are being developed every day, and some have been demonstrated to be very effective as well as fast-acting. Antivirals are also frequently used on patients prior to liver transplant surgery.
Although there is no vaccine for hepatitis C, you can be vaccinated against both hepatitis A and B viruses. Either of these viruses can inflict damage on your liver in addition to complicating the course of chronic hepatitis C.
Hepatitis A Vaccine
The hepatitis A vaccine consists of two doses given six months apart and can protect a person for more than 40 years. Children can be vaccinated when they are about one-year old. A vaccination that provides short-term protection for travelers is also available that takes advantage of immune globulin. The CDC recommends a hepatitis vaccination for everyone over the age of one year.
Hepatitis B Vaccine
The hepatitis B vaccine can be administered as a stand-alone vaccine or in combination with a hepatitis A vaccine. The stand-alone version will protect adults, children, and infants from hepatitis B. The combination vaccine will protect adults from both hepatitis A and hepatitis B. Hepatitis B vaccines have been shown to be more than 90 percent effective.
Do Your Research
If you are at risk of hepatitis, you owe it to yourself to explore all possible treatment avenues. This is especially true if you have experienced any of the early signs and symptoms discussed above. If tests reveal that you do not have hepatitis, you can get a vaccination that will guard against hepatitis A and hepatitis B.
If tests reveal that you do have the disease, there are antiviral medications available. New drugs are being developed every day that are very effective at combating hepatitis with very few side effects. Waiting to be tested and treated, though, is dangerous as the disease can lead to severe health complications, such as a failed liver.