Once your doctor has determined the presence of a hepatitis infection, as well as from which virus type you have contracted, the condition and whether it is acute or chronic in nature, an effective treatment plan can begin.
- Hepatitis A: Typically, this type of hepatitis isn’t treated. If your symptoms are causing you a great deal of discomfort or you feel weak and lethargic, your doctor will recommend bed rest. Your doctor may encourage you to make changes in your normal diet if you are experiencing any symptoms of diarrhoea and vomiting, so as to prevent dehydration and possible malnutrition. If you are struggling to eat and experiencing nausea, you may need to try snacking on various foodstuffs instead of trying to consume large meals. High-calorie foods and liquids such as juice and milk will be more nourishing if you can stomach them. Your liver will do most of the work for you in this instance and clear your system of the HAV on its own. Your liver will likely heal completely within 6 months. It isn’t likely that you will experience any lasting damage. You will be discouraged from drinking any alcohol. If you need any medications, your doctor will carefully prescribe these for you. You should not take anything your doctor hasn’t recommended as your liver will have difficulty coping with many drug substances.
- Hepatitis B: Acute conditions may be treated with antiviral medications for several months (and even years if necessary), but typically don’t require much treatment. Your doctor will recommend the same rest and nutrition home care as for HAV while the body works the virus out of its system. Chronic HBV will require regular medical evaluations and consultations to monitor the virus progression. Chronic infections will be treated with medical means to reduce the risk of liver disease and prevent further transmission of the disease. Along with antiviral medications (to fight the virus, reducing the possibility of further liver damage), other treatment involves interferon alfa-2b (Intron A) given as an injection, or a liver transplant (where severe damage is assessed).
- Hepatitis C: Both acute and chronic HCV are treated with antiviral medications. Chronic conditions are treated with a combination of antiviral therapies. Medicinal treatment will depend on the hepatitis C genotype (genetic make-up of a cell), the extent of liver damage, any other health conditions and concerns and prior treatments. Medications prescribed will carry side-effects and these will be carefully monitored by your doctor. Your doctor may also recommend bed rest, a healthy diet and plenty of fluids as well. If necessary, your doctor may recommend follow-up liver function tests. A liver transplant is also considered where excessive damage is evident (cirrhosis or liver disease). A liver transplant isn’t necessarily a cure for hepatitis C, as the infection can recur. If the infection returns, you will need to take antiviral medications again to reduce the risk of further liver tissue damage.
- Hepatitis D: Your doctor may prescribe large doses of interferon alfa-2b (Intron A) injections for up to 12 months. This medication prevents the virus from spreading and causing further damage to the liver. You may go into ‘remission’ but can experience recurring symptoms following treatment. You will be encouraged to take precautionary measures to prevent any potential to spread the disease (when active once again). Extensive damage and cirrhosis may require a liver transplant.
- Hepatitis E: If an infection is acute, treatment may not be recommended and you will be advised to rest, adjust your overall diet and drink plenty of fluids (not alcohol). In some instances, medication (ribavirin) may be prescribed to help improve liver function. This medication will not be prescribed for pregnant women. If you are pregnant, have a suppressed immune system or show any signs of acute liver failure, your doctor may recommend that you are hospitalised and carefully monitored.
- Non-viral hepatitis: If the underlying cause is determined as alcoholic hepatitis your doctor will immediately recommend drinking cessation (stop all alcohol consumption) to prevent further damage to the liver. Other treatment recommendations may involve medications (corticosteroids and anti-inflammatories), support groups and counselling, diet plans to correct any nutritional issues or tube feeding (if you have trouble being able to eat), or a liver transplant. Autoimmune hepatitis as an underlying cause is somewhat tricky to treat. Your doctor will use medications to reduce the progression of the disease and lower your immune-system activity. Medications and their doses will be carefully controlled as many will have side-effects which will also need to be managed. If medications aren’t successful in halting the progress of the hepatitis infection and damage caused to the liver becomes irreversible, the last remaining option a doctor will recommend is a liver transplant.