The good news is that most people who get hepatitis A recover completely in a matter of weeks. The disappearance of jaundice usually marks the beginning of recovery.
Within one or two months, the liver, which is the target of the hepatitis A virus (HAV), is healed. And one bout of hepatitis A will make you immune to the disease for life.
“It may be better not to take any medication at that time because the injured liver doesn’t handle drugs very well. So whereas you might use a sedative or painkiller to control the symptoms of most other illnesses, you probably should not do so with hepatitis. The best advice I can offer is to rest at home for a few days until your low-grade fever subsides, avoid alcohol, and then begin gradually to resume light activities,” according to Dr. Isadore Rosenfeld of the New York Hospital – Sloane-Kettering Cancer Center in The Best Treatment.
“During this initial period, your doctor will be monitoring your liver function by means of blood tests. As soon as they begin to return toward normal, so can you. There’s no reason for you to be hospitalized unless you develop some complication that requires treatment, like bleeding from the nose, mouth, rectum, or under the skin as a result of impaired liver function. In my experience, most patients with uncomplicated hepatitis of any variety are able to return to work full time in three to four weeks,” he added.
Contrary to popular belief, hepatitis A cannot be prevented or cured by taking vitamins, herbs or following certain diets. The only thing patients should avoid is alcoholic beverages which can put a strain on the inflamed liver.
“Doctors used to make such a big fuss about diet in patients with hepatitis and until quite recently, routinely advised them to reduce their protein intake, eliminate fat, and abstain totally from alcohol. Only the last proscription is valid today because alcohol has a toxic effect on the liver. (As a matter of fact, it’s a good idea to avoid all forms of alcohol for three to four months, or until your liver function tests have returned completely too normal.),” Rosenfeld said.
“But as far as diet is concerned, I permit my patients to eat whatever they wish. However, since their appetite isn’t great to begin with, most instinctively reject fat and fried foods,” he explained.
Can hepatitis A cause serious problems? For most people, the answer is “No.” But in a few rare instances, the disease can be so severe to require hospitalization or lead to death. This often happens in the elderly and drug abusers with underlying liver disease.
One of the rare complications of hepatitis A is cholestatic jaundice in which the yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes may persist for several months. This is accompanied by weight loss and an increased red blood cell count. This is more likely to occur in elderly patients with sickle cell disease.
Other patients may develop relapsing hepatitis A which can last for a year. This happens in about 10 percent of hepatitis A victims.
Fulminant hepatitis A is a more serious complication which is characterized by severe jaundice, rapid deterioration in liver function, drowsiness, and coma. These symptoms are often preceded by excitability, insomnia, confusion, and severe vomiting.
HAV infection can also lead to the following complications: seizures, acute renal failure, polyneuritis (inflammation of many nerves), myelitis (inflammation of the spinal cord), hypotension (low blood pressure), and bradycardia (abnormally slow heart beat). (Next: How to prevent hepatitis A.)
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