Information Source for Liver Diseases
Your liver is the largest organ inside your body. The liver is also one of the most important organs. Your liver has many critical jobs such as changing food into energy and cleaning alcohol and poisons from your blood. Your liver also makes bile, a yellowish-green liquid that helps with digestion.
There are many kinds of liver diseases. Viruses cause some of them, like hepatitis A, hepatitis B and hepatitis C. Others can be the result of drugs, poisons or drinking too much alcohol. If the liver forms scar tissue because of an illness, it's called cirrhosis. Jaundice, or yellowing of the skin, can be one sign of liver disease.
Like other parts of your body, cancer can affect the liver. You could also inherit a "serious liver disease" one of which is hemochromatosis.
Hepatitis A is one type of hepatitis - a liver disease - caused by the hepatitis A virus (HAV). The disease is spread primarily through food or water contaminated by stool from an infected person. You can get HAV from
- Eating food prepared by someone with HAV who did not wash their hands after using the bathroom
- Having anal/oral sex with someone with HAV
- Not washing your hands after changing a diaper
- Drinking contaminated water
HAV can cause swelling of the liver, but it rarely causes lasting damage. You may feel as if you have the flu, or you may have no symptoms at all. It usually gets better on its own after several weeks.
The hepatitis A vaccine can prevent HAV. Healthy habits also make a difference. Wash your hands thoroughly before preparing food, after using the toilet or after changing a diaper. International travelers should be careful about drinking tap water.
Hepatitis A - Vaccine
The hepatitis A vaccine protects you against a type of liver infection called hepatitis A. The vaccine will not protect you from other types of hepatitis.
Information About the Hepatitis Vaccine
The vaccine, called Havrix or VAQTA, is made from inactivated whole virus of hepatitis A. The inactive virus stimulates your body to produce antibodies to fight the hepatitis A virus.
The vaccine is given by a shot in your arm. You should be protected against the disease within 2-weeks after receiving the first dose. 2-shots are best to make sure you are well-protected against the disease. After receiving the first vaccination, children and adults should have a booster vaccination in 6 to 12-months.
A vaccine for adults called Twinrix provides protection against Serious Liver Disease involving both hepatitis-A and hepatitis-B. It's given in 3-doses.
WHO SHOULD RECEIVE THIS VACCINE
People who work or travel in areas with high rates of infection should be vaccinated against hepatitis. Including areas in much of Africa, Asia (except Japan), the Mediterranean, Eastern Europe, Middle East, Central and South America, Mexico, and certain Caribbean areas.
If you're traveling to these areas before you are fully immunized which is fewer than 4-weeks after your first shot, you should receive a preventive dose of immunoglobulin (IG). If you are just a short-term traveler to these areas, you may wish to receive the immunoglobulin (IG) instead of the vaccine.
The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices recommends (but does not mandate) routine vaccination of all children older than age 1 with 2-doses of vaccine spaced 6-months apart.
Other people who are at higher risk for hepatitis A include:
- People who use recreational, injectable drugs
- People who work with the hepatitis A virus in a laboratory or with primates that may be infected with the virus
- People who have chronic disease of liver
- People who receive clotting factor concentrate to treat hemophilia or other clotting disorders
- Military personnel
- Homosexual or bisexual men
- Employees of child day-care centers
- People who care for patients living in long-term nursing homes and other facilities
An immunoglobulin (IG) shot helps protect people from becoming infected for a short period of time. When traveling to areas where hepatitis A is common, you may be given an IG shot if:
- You are traveling fewer than 4-weeks after your first hepatitis A immunization, since you may not be fully protected
- You will only be traveling to these areas for a short while and wish to receive the immunoglobulin (IG) instead of the vaccine
WHO SHOULDN'T RECEIVE THIS VACCINE
If you have had hepatitis A in the past, you do NOT need the vaccine. Once you have recovered from the disease, you're immune for life.
Others who should NOT receive the vaccine include:
- People who are allergic to the components of the vaccine
- Children less than 1-year old
- Pregnant or nursing mothers
- Those who are sick or have a fever - can delay receiving the vaccine until the illness goes away
SIDE EFFECTS AND RISKS OF VACCINE
The most common side effect of the vaccine is pain at the injection site. Other rare, but possible side effects include the following:
- Redness, swelling, or easily bruised skin at injection site
- Muscle aches
- Loss of appetite
CALL YOUR PRIMARY HEALTH CARE PROVIDER IF:
- You develop rash, itching, hives, or need a breathing cure after the vaccine
- You develop any other symptoms
- You have other questions or concerns
Hepatitis B is one type of hepatitis – a liver disease caused by the hepatitis B virus (HBV). Hepatitis B spreads by contact with an infected person's blood, semen or other body fluid. An infected woman can give hepatitis B to her baby at birth.
If you get HBV, you may feel as if you have the flu, or you may have no symptoms at all. A blood test can tell if you have it. HBV usually gets better on its own after a few months. If it does not get better, it is called chronic HBV, which lasts a lifetime. Chronic HBV can lead to scarring of the liver, liver failure or liver cancer.
There is a vaccine for HBV. It requires three shots. All babies should get the vaccine, but older children and adults can get it too. If you travel to countries where Hepatitis B is common, you should get the vaccine.
Hepatitis C is one type of hepatitis - a liver disease - caused by the hepatitis C virus (HCV). It usually spreads through contact with infected blood. It can also spread through sex with an infected person and from mother to baby during childbirth.
Most people who are infected with hepatitis C don't have any symptoms for years. A blood test can tell if you have it. Usually, hepatitis C does not get better by itself. The infection can last a lifetime and may lead to scarring of the liver or liver cancer. Medicines sometimes help, but side effects can be a problem. Serious cases may need a liver transplant. There's no vaccine for HCV.
Cirrhosis is scarring of the liver. Scar tissue forms because of injury or long-term disease. Scar tissue cannot do what healthy liver tissue does - make protein, help fight infections, clean the blood, help digest food and store energy. Cirrhosis can lead to
- Easy bruising or bleeding, or nosebleeds
- Swelling of the abdomen or legs
- Extra sensitivity to medicines
- High blood pressure in the vein entering the liver
- Enlarged veins in the esophagus and stomach
- Kidney failure
About 5% of people with cirrhosis get liver cancer.
Cirrhosis has many causes. In the United States, the most common causes are chronic alcoholism and hepatitis. Nothing will make the scar tissue disappear, but treating the cause can keep it from getting worse. If too much scar tissue forms, you may need to consider a liver transplant.
Jaundice causes your skin and the whites of your eyes to turn yellow. Too much bilirubin causes jaundice. Bilirubin is a yellow chemical in hemoglobin, the substance that carries oxygen in your red blood cells. As red blood cells break down, your body builds new cells to replace them. The old ones are processed by the liver. If the liver cannot handle the blood cells as they break down, bilirubin builds up in the body and your skin may look yellow.
Many healthy babies have some jaundice during the first week of life. It usually goes away. However, jaundice can happen at any age and may be a sign of a problem. Jaundice can happen for many reasons, including these liver disease symptoms:
- Blood diseases
- Genetic syndromes
- Serious infections
- Medicine reactions or allergies
- Liver diseases, such as hepatitis or cirrhosis of the liver
- Blocked bile ducts