30 April 2007

Hepatitis - Risk Factors and Symptoms

What are the risk factors?

Risk factors are circumstances or conditions that can increase the chances of developing a condition. Some of these behaviors can be changed and taking special precautions may be helpful for limiting others. Risk factors for hepatitis B include:

  • Being tattooed or having body or ear piercing with contaminated instruments
  • Immigration from areas where the disease is common, especially among children
  • Injectable drug use
  • Poor socioeconomic conditions
  • Sexual activity with homosexual or bisexual men
  • Sexual activity with more than one partner in 6 months
  • Travel to high-risk countries in Africa, Asia, South America, and Eastern and Mediterranean parts of Europe

Other individuals who may be at greater risk are:

  • Dialysis patients
  • Health care workers
  • Individuals who received a blood transfusion prior to July 1992
  • Individuals with hemophilia, especially those who used blood-derived clotting factors before 1987
  • Infants born to infected mothers
  • Sexual or household contacts of infected individuals

What are the symptoms?

Many individuals who contract HBV are not even aware that they have hepatitis because the symptoms may be so mild. The most common symptoms of hepatitis B are often mistaken for the flu and they may not be recognized because they may not appear until one to 6 months after becoming infected. Some of these symptoms may be:

  • Fatigue
  • Loss of appetite
  • Mild fever
  • Muscle or joint aches

Additional symptoms that may appear a few days after the initial symptoms include:

  • Bitter taste in the mouth or bad breath
  • Clay-colored (light) stools
  • Confusion
  • Dark urine
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Pain on the right side below the ribs
  • Widespread itching
  • Yellow colored skin or white areas of eyes (jaundice)

The following symptoms of more serious liver damage may occur months to years later in individuals with chronic hepatitis B:

  • Bruising easily or the appearance of “spider veins” broken blood vessels that form a tangled, spiderlike appearance under the skin
  • Changes in personality or behavior (encephalopathy)
  • Pain on the upper left side of stomach (due to an enlarged spleen)
  • Red coloration of the palms of the hands
  • Swelling of the legs and stomach (ascites)
  • Vomiting bright red blood or dark, grainy "coffee ground" material (as a result of bleeding from enlarged blood vessels in the oesophagus and stomach)

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