Hepatitis is an inflammation of your liver. It may be self-limiting or it may cause serious problems like liver scarring, cirrhosis or cancer. Hepatitis may be caused by infections, alcohol, drugs or some autoimmune diseases. But hepatitis viruses are the most common cause.
There are many different hepatitis virus but we tend to focus on the 5 (A-E) that are responsible for most health problems. Let’s take a closer look at hepatitis B and C.
What are hepatitis B and C?
Hepatitis B and C are two of the most significant hepatitis viruses.
- Spreads through blood and some body fluids
- Is usually caught at birth or in early childhood
- Can be prevented by vaccination (though not in all cases)
- Treatment aims to reduce the damage to your liver.
- Spreads through blood (not bodily fluids)
- Is usually contracted by:
- Taking drugs with a contaminated needle
- Being exposed to unsafe medical procedures, unsafe vaccinations or unsafe tattoo practices
- Having anal sex without a condom
- Has no vaccine available
- Can be treated with medication.
Although there are differences between them, hepatitis B and C can both cause serious liver problems.
Many people with hepatitis B and C have no symptoms – or only very vague ones like fatigue or discomfort on the right side of the abdomen. More serious symptoms may not appear until liver disease has progressed considerably.
- Jaundice (yellow skin and eyes)
- Dark urine
- Nausea and vomiting
- Muscle and joint pain
- Abdominal pain
- Loss of appetite
- Mood swings, anxiety and depression.
How do you diagnose hepatitis B and C?
Hepatitis B and C are diagnosed by blood tests. Pregnant women are usually screened for hepatitis B. Your doctor may also recommend testing for hepatitis B or C if you:
- Are concerned that you’ve been exposed
- Have symptoms
- Are in a high-risk group – for example, you use intravenous drugs, have had a needlestick injury, have HIV, are immunosuppressed, or have had unprotected anal sex.
Treating hepatitis B
If you have hepatitis B, you need to protect your liver by drinking plenty of fluids, eating a healthy balanced diet, getting enough rest and avoiding alcohol.
There’s no way to treat an acute hepatitis B infection so we focus on supporting your overall health while you recover.
If you have chronic (long-term) hepatitis B but don’t have any liver damage, then we will usually just keep a close eye on you through regular liver checks.
If you do have liver damage, we will act more swiftly. That may mean:
- Close medical supervision
- Taking antivirals (potentially for life) to reduce the risk of serious liver disease
- Screening for liver cancer.
Treating hepatitis C
There are several hepatitis C medications available at low cost through Medicare. In most cases, you’d take these tablets for 8-12 weeks until the virus has cleared from your body. Your doctor may also advise you to be vaccinated against hepatitis A and B and to avoid alcohol. If your liver has been damaged, you may also need to see a liver specialist.
Stages of liver disease
If you are found to have liver disease, we need to know which stage it is at. The key stages are:
- Hepatitis – your liver is swollen and inflamed
- Fibrosis – your liver is scarred and no longer able to repair itself but treatments are available
- Cirrhosis – severe, irreversible scarring which may progress to liver cancer
- Liver failure – end-stage disease for which the only treatment option is a liver transplant.
How Moonee Valley Specialist Centre can help
If you’ve been diagnosed with hepatitis B or C, your treatment options depend on whether or not your liver has been affected.
Liver scan technology is the key to spotting early signs of liver damage. A liver scan is a little bit like an ultrasound. It uses a series of sound waves to measure the stiffness of your liver. A liver scan is a non-invasive procedure. It may mean you can avoid a biopsy – or it may confirm that a biopsy is necessary.
A liver scan helps us:
- Identify any liver damage
- Assess its stage
- Decide how best to treat you
- Monitor your progress and adjust your treatment as necessary.
Moonee Valley Specialist Centre is the only private practice in Melbourne to conduct liver scans using a state-of-the-art FibroScan® 502 Touch device. You don’t need a referral for this – you can simply book an appointment.
If you’d like help identifying or treating anaemia, please book an appointment today.
All information is general and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Moonee Valley Specialist Centre can consult with you to confirm if a particular treatment or procedure is right for you.