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Hepatitis is an inflammation of and injury to the liver due to a viral infection. There are several types of hepatitis viral infections that cause liver inflammation, but doctors are concerned primarily with hepatitis B and hepatitis C, which can both cause liver failure and death. Neither form of hepatitis is treatable in its acute form or immediately after infection. Indeed, in some individuals the viral infection cannot be determined by laboratory tests until nearly a year after infection. Chronic hepatitis treatment consists of antiviral medications, vaccination against other forms of hepatitis, avoidance of substances that tax liver function, monitoring of liver function, practicing general well-being tips and — as a last resort — liver transplantation.
In many instances, a diagnosis of hepatitis is not made until years after infection when the viral damage to the liver becomes symptomatic. At this point, medication is initiated for chronic hepatitis treatment in an attempt to decrease the viral load and the ongoing liver damage. For hepatitis B, either interferon injections or oral lamivudine are prescribed. Different types of interferon alone or in conjunction with ribavirin are used to treat hepatitis C. Liver enzymes are measured frequently to assess whether there is any progression of liver damage and intermittent liver biopsies may be conducted.
A significant amount of chronic hepatitis treatment involves treating or limiting the side effects of interferon therapy. Interferon may cause symptoms that mimic the flu and decrease the bone marrow's production of platelets and white blood cells. The drug's effect on blood cell production can result in bleeding and clotting disorders and decreased immune response to other germs or viruses. Blood tests are conducted frequently to assess these side effects. Once a prescribed course of treatment is completed as indicated by decreased amounts of the virus, tests are performed intermittently to determine whether re-treatment is necessary.
Chronic hepatitis treatment also involves ensuring that other types of hepatitis to which the patient may be exposed do not inflict additional liver damage. Thus, vaccination against hepatitis A is recommended for hepatitis B and C sufferers, as is vaccination against hepatitis B for those patients affected by hepatitis C. There is no vaccine available for hepatitis C, D or E at present.
In addition to ensuring that other types of hepatitis do not damage the liver further, chronic hepatitis treatment also involves patient education to avoid alcohol and other substances that may tax or damage this organ. Proper nutrition, physical exercise as able, and rest as needed are all also recommended. Liver transplant — the treatment of last resort — is not considered unless the patient's liver is failing despite current chronic hepatitis treatment.
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