life.TV life.TV Managing Daily Life With Hepatitis
Managing Daily Life With Hepatitis
Hepatitis can cause profound health changes, but with the right approach, you can still live a normal, productive life. Here's what our experts recommend.
By Wyatt Myers
Medically Reviewed by Lindsey Marcellin, MD, MPH
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Anybody who has lived with the symptoms of hepatitis knows it’s a condition to be taken seriously. Hepatitis causes inflammation of the liver and, depending on the exact type of hepatitis you have, can result in flu-like symptoms or lead to more serious consequences like liver failure.
Beyond the physical symptoms of hepatitis, the condition can take its toll on you mentally as well. “A person often feels ashamed and stigmatized when they are diagnosed with this disease,” says Camilla Graham, MD, an assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School in Cambridge, Mass. “Patients are often reluctant to share the diagnosis with others, which can lead to feelings of isolation.”
That said, there are ways to cope with a diagnosis of hepatitis so that you can live a better, healthier life.
Dealing With Hepatitis A and B
The good news about hepatitis A and B is that these conditions usually go away on their own within a few weeks with supportive care, says Kimberly Brown, MD, chief of the division of gastroenterology and hepatology at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit.
“While they are contagious, people with hepatitis A should remain secluded to avoid infecting others,” adds Rashmi Gulati, MD, medical director of Patients Medical in New York. “They will most likely need to stay home from work, school, and other activities.”
According to Dr. Gulati, this isolation extends to everything that comes in contact with the patient. A person with hepatitis should use a separate bathroom if possible, keep his toothbrush away from the others in the household, and wash his hands in a separate sink.
Laundry and bed linens should also be washed separately from other family members’ laundry and in hot water with a disinfectant. “Bathrooms should be decontaminated frequently by cleaning toilets and floors with a disinfectant,” says Gulati. “Tea tree oil can be used as a disinfectant when added to hot water with soap.”
Though this isolation period can be difficult, the patient should be able to return to his normal routines within a short amount of time.
When Hepatitis Becomes Chronic
Everyday life changes more dramatically when you have a chronic form of hepatitis, such as hepatitis C and some cases of hepatitis B.
The medications often prescribed to treat hepatitis C (interferon and ribavirin) also cause flu-like side effects that can further complicate matters. “Patients may need to take time off from work for treatment or from the illness itself,” says Dr. Graham.
“With chronic hepatitis as well as toxic hepatitis, the patient’s life will change more profoundly,” says Gulati. A person with chronic hepatitis may need intense detoxification or transfusions, or could experience liver failure and require a liver transplant. “This affects every aspect of a patient’s life and puts them at severe risk for secondary diseases and infections,” she adds.
Managing Chronic Hepatitis
Step one in keeping chronic hepatitis in check, says Gulati, is to live a toxin-free lifestyle. “All patients with hepatitis need to stay away from toxins, including alcohol, medications that are not prescribed by a doctor, recreational drugs, environmental toxins, and toxins found in food and water,” she says. “These patients will likely need assistance with day-to-day activities depending on the severity of the condition.”
Eating a more nutritious diet is a strategy that can rid your body of toxins and help you cope with chronic hepatitis. According to Gulati, this diet isn’t much different from the one everybody should be eating: Plenty of water and fresh organic juices, organic fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and lean sources of protein. You should also avoid overly processed foods with long ingredient lists.
Other lifestyle changes can help, too. “Getting some exercise and plenty of rest, eating well, and following your doctor’s recommendations will help strengthen the immune system, so that the body can eliminate the virus and heal the liver naturally,” says Gulati.
As for medication side effects, it’s advisable to take your medication before bedtime if possible, so you can sleep through the worst ones. For fever, try sponging yourself with some lukewarm water to cool your body. And practice good dental hygiene, as the drug interferon causes dry mouth, which can result in tooth decay and gum disease.
Chronic Hepatitis and Depression
Not surprisingly, the changes hepatitis brings can lead many with the condition to feel anxious, irritable, and even depressed. To cope with these feelings, Graham says you should seek help. “Depression is common, and it is important to find support through support groups, trusted friends and family, or online communities,” she says.
By interacting with others with hepatitis C, you can learn about problems other people are facing, find strength in each other, and share your coping strategies with one another.
Remember that while you can’t control the fact that you have hepatitis, you can control factors such as eating a healthy diet, getting plenty of rest, and avoiding alcohol and other toxins. These steps will help you to feel your best and give you some measure of control over your illness.
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