What is Hepatitis B?
Hepatitis B is a disease caused by a virus that attacks the liver. A hepatitis B infection may be acute, meaning that it affects the individual for a short period of time, and then they often go on to make a full recovery. Other people afflicted by the virus develop chronic hepatitis B. This results in a long-term infection with ongoing complications. Children and young adults are at an increased risk of developing chronic hepatitis B.
Like other strains of the virus, women and men carrying hepatitis B may show few or no signs of the disease. What symptoms they do show may be mild, and mistaken for the flu or a cold. Thus, it is common for people to be infected with hepatitis B for years, unknowingly spreading the virus and yet never aware that they are causing harm.
Hepatitis B Symptoms for Men
The symptoms of a hepatitis B infection vary very little between men and women. There may be feelings of fatigue, nausea and a loss of appetite. Weigh loss may occur, and vomiting can become common following a meal. Periods of constipation and/or diarrhea may be another sign that something is wrong.
More severe signals that one has been exposed to the hepatitis B virus would include abdominal and belly pain, aching joints, and muscle soreness and pain. Some people may suffer from rashes, itchy skin, and a yellowing in the whites of their eyes. Jaundice (yellow-tinged skin) is also possible when infected with hepatitis B, as with other strains of the virus.
Hepatitis B Symptoms for Women
Women may display the same symptoms mentioned above, or be entirely asymptomatic. Many women and men can pick up the virus, and have it go away on its own. Symptoms are usually fairly easy to manage, by eating a healthy diet, moderate exercise, and avoiding alcohol, smoking, and fatty foods. Certain medications and herbal supplements may be discontinued by your doctor if she or he feels they may cause more stress on your liver.
How Do You Get Hepatitis B?
Unlike hepatitis A, the B strain cannot be spread by sharing eating utensils, or having close physical contact with a person who is carrying the virus. Sneezing and coughing are not ways that the disease is spread. Instead, it is through direct contact with blood, sperm, and other bodily fluids that puts you at risk for contracting the B strain of the hepatitis virus.
Having unprotected sex with a man or woman who is infected is one way to contract the illness. Sharing needles to shoot up narcotics is another. Having a tattoo, or piercing done with unsterilized instruments is also a high-risk move that may lead to infection. It is not advisable to use the toothbrush, razors, or other personal care items of someone who is carrying the hepatitis B virus.
Mothers can pass the illness to their babies during childbirth. Pregnant women who have not been vaccinated against the disease may be tested for the virus prior to delivering their children. Early treatment for newborns whose mothers were infected can greatly reduce the likelihood of them falling victim to the disease.
Risks and Effects of Hepatitis B
Carriers of the hepatitis B virus are at a heightened risk of damage to their livers, especially if they become chronic sufferers of the disease. The longer a person suffers from hepatitis B, the more serious the symptoms of the infection may become. Chronic fatigue, weight loss and frequent fevers may result. There are medicines available to control and treat the chronic variation of hepatitis B.
Treatments will depend on how active the virus is, and how aggressive it behaves towards a person's liver. Hepatitis B can cause cirrhosis of the liver, which can lead to eventual liver failure. While uncommon, in such a case a liver transplant may be the only option available to the patient.
Hepatitis B Treatment
Treating hepatitis B is usually a case of managing the symptoms and complications that can result from the virus. Your doctor will discuss the treatment options that are best for you, depending on what effects the virus is having on your body. In most cases, modest dietary changes, and maintaining a healthy all around lifestyle will be enough to stop a hepatitis B infection from progressing. Anything that increases pressure on your liver (alcohol, drugs and high-fat foods) should be avoided.
Hepatitis B Testing
In most cases, a simple blood test can determine whether or not you have been exposed to the hepatitis B virus. If liver damage is suspected, your physician may want to perform a liver biopsy. A small tissue sample is taken from your liver with a needle. The tissue is then tested to see what degree of damage the virus has done.
Complications from Untreated Hepatitis B
Rarely, a hepatitis B infection can lead to serious, even life threatening complications. This can include severely compromised liver function, and even complete liver failure. Carriers of the hepatitis B virus are at a greater risk of developing cirrhosis of the liver.
Can We Prevent Hepatitis B?
The Twinrix vaccine is one of the most common ways to protect yourself from both the A and B strains of hepatitis. Always use condoms when you have sex, especially if you have multiple partners, and frequent, casual encounters. If you get a tattoo or a piercing, make sure it is at a professional establishment that is serious about sanitation, and the proper sterilization of the tools of their trade.