By Dr Ananya Mandal, MD
Once a patient is diagnosed with hepatitis B, they are usually referred to a liver specialist called a hepatologist.
The majority of people completely recover within a couple of months and never go on to develop chronic hepatitis.
There is no specific treatment for short-term (acute) hepatitis B and unless symptoms are severe, patients can generally manage these at home.
Long-term or chronic hepatitis B, on the other hand, may require treatment, with some patients needing therapy for many years.
Some of the treatment approaches to hepatitis B are described below.
Home based treatments
If acute hepatitis B is causing pain, painkillers such as paracetamol can be bought over the counter.
For more severe pain, a doctor may prescribe a more potent painkiller such as codeine.
Any nausea or vomiting symptoms can often be relieved with medications such as metoclopramide.
Regular blood tests to check on the state of the liver are also advised.
Once symptoms improve, patients need a further blood test to check they are free of the virus and that chronic hepatitis B has not developed.
Chronic hepatitis B
People with chronic hepatitis B are often symptom-free, but may require long-term medication to prevent liver damage.
Several medications are effective at suppressing the virus for many years and slowing the progression of liver damage so that the body has a chance to repair itself.
However, this medication does not usually eliminate the virus completely. Blood tests, ultrasound scans and perhaps liver biopsy may also be required to check the state of the liver and how much damage has been done.
The medications chosen to manage chronic hepatitis B depends on whether the virus is causing persistent liver damage, because the immune system is sometimes able to suppress the virus without any liver damage being caused.
For patients with a fairly healthy liver function, the first treatment approach is often a drug called peginterferon alfa 2-a. If this therapy fails, antiviral drugs such as entecavir and tenofovir may be prescribed.
In some cases, the medication is successful at enabling the immune system to control the virus and the treatment may no longer be required.
Reviewed by Sally Robertson, BSc
Last Updated: Nov 30, 2014