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Viral Hepatitis and Liver Disease


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Keeping Your Liver Healthy When You Have Viral Hepatitis

for Veterans and the Public

Keeping your liver healthy when you have hepatitis - Liver Basics

Here are some things to remember about keeping your liver healthy if you have viral hepatitis (hepatitis B or C):

  • Don't drink alcohol. Alcohol can cause further swelling and irritation of your liver, and drinking increases your chances of cirrhosis. No one knows if there is a safe amount of alcohol for patients with liver disease.
  • Get tested for hepatitis A. A blood test can tell if you are already immune to hepatitis A. If you have hepatitis B or C, and you are not immune to hepatitis A, you should get vaccinated for hepatitis A. If you have hepatitis B or C or any other chronic liver disease, you have a higher chance of getting very sick if you get hepatitis A.
  • If you have hepatitis C, you should also be tested for hepatitis B. The test can tell if you have ever been exposed to hepatitis B. If you are not already immune to hepatitis B, you should get vaccinated for hepatitis B. Other than having hepatitis C, there are other reasons you may need hepatitis B vaccination, including if:
    • you belong to a group at risk for hepatitis B (such as health care workers)
    • you have been involved in high-risk sexual behavior
    • there is any chance of your using or sharing needles for illegal drug use
  • If you are already immune to hepatitis B, you should be protected from getting it again. If you have hepatitis B, you should also be tested for hepatitis C. The test can tell if you have ever been exposed or have chronic hepatitis C. There is no vaccine to protect against getting hepatitis C, but you should be especially cautious about not being exposed to hepatitis C--for example, by never sharing needles with anyone.
  • If you have: Get tested for: If not immune, get vaccinated for: If you also have:
    Chronic hepatitis B Hepatitis A, Hepatitis C Hepatitis A Chronic hepatitis C - get very carefully monitored
    Chronic hepatitis C Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B Chronic hepatitis B - get very carefully monitored
  • Be careful with medications. Occasional use of low-dose acetaminophen (commonly known as Tylenol) is OK. A general rule is to take half the dose recommended on the bottle. No more than 500 mg at a time and no more than 2,000 mg (4 tablets) in a 24 hr period. It is also OK to take ibuprofen (Motrin or Advil) if you do not have cirrhosis. Regular aspirin is fine if it doesn't bother your stomach.
  • Be careful about vitamins and minerals. Avoid iron supplements unless prescribed by your doctor. Iron might speed up the process of liver scarring, particularly when taken in large doses.
  • Be careful about herbal remedies. Some patients ask to take the herb "milk thistle," believing it can reduce swelling in the liver. Whether milk thistle works or not is unknown. However, be cautious when taking any herb. U.S. regulations do not require that these products be tested for quality.