Doctor's Notes on Hepatitis B (HBV, Hep B)
Hepatitis B is a liver disease caused by infection with the hepatitis B virus. The infection is spread from person to person through sexual contact, contact with contaminated blood (for example, through shared needles from intravenous drug abuse), and from mother to child.
Most healthy adults do not develop symptoms after the initial hepatitis B infection. If they do develop symptoms, they may include:
- jaundice (yellowish discoloration of the skin and whites of the eyes),
- loss of appetite, and
- pain in the upper right side of the abdomen.
Some people develop a chronic (long-term) hepatitis B infection. Associated symptoms and signs of chronic infection may include:
- weight loss,
- cirrhosis (scarring) of the liver,
- problems with blood clotting,
- a rash on the palms, and
- breast enlargement in men.
What Is the Treatment for Hepatitis B?
An acute infection with hepatitis B usually does not require specific treatment. Treatment is recommended if there are signs that the virus is beginning to cause damage or if the viral load is high. Another reason to prescribe medication is if the patient is positive for the Hepatitis B e-antigen (HBeAg) in the bloodstream. The goal of treatment is to reduce the development of cirrhosis and liver failure.
Treatment is individualized for each patient. Medications currently used for chronic hepatitis B include the interferons and antiviral medications. Liver transplantation may be used in severe cases of liver damage with liver failure.
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Kasper, D.L., et al., eds. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 19th Ed. United States: McGraw-Hill Education, 2015.