Understanding people with liver disease
Buena Bariring was just 18 when she had the biggest surprise of her life: While applying for a job, the nurse in charge of her medical examination revealed to her that she tested positive for hepatitis B.
“That time, I did not know the impact of that finding. In fact, it surprised me considering that since childhood, I was never seriously ill or felt anything wrong with me,” Bariring said.
It was the start of her ordeal as she found out that having hepatitis B was like being handed a death sentence. “I can’t continue my studies as I have no money. But then, I can’t land a decent job because of my health condition. The few companies who hired me assigned me to a job where I would have the least human contact,” lamented Bariring who is now a member of Yellow Warriors Society Philippines, an organization dedicated to fighting all forms of discrimination against hepatitis B and C carriers, and diminishing suffering from them through advocacy, research, education and service.
Hepatitis B is a serious liver infection caused by the hepatitis B virus (HBV). Having chronic hepatitis B—lasting more than six months—increases one’s risk of developing liver failure, liver cancer or cirrhosis or the permanent scarring of the liver. While most people infected with hepatitis B as adults recover fully (there’s a vaccine that can deal with hepatitis B), there is no cure yet for those who has it since birth.
While most people with chronic hepatitis B can live a normal life, it is also important for them to know what to do to avoid infecting others (especially family members and sex partners) so that they can get vaccinated to protect themselves.
Mother to newborn baby
“I should remind everyone that hepatitis B is not a disease of the sinful. Unlike in developed countries where hepatitis B is mostly spread among adults through sexual contact or by sharing needles and other drug paraphernalia, here in the Philippines as well as in other developing countries, 80 percent of the cases are due to HBV-infected mothers who unknowingly passed on the virus to their child at birth,” explained Dr. Felix Domingo, immediate past president of the Philippine Society of Digestive Endoscopy.
The problem, according to Domingo, is that people with chronic HBV infection—just like Bariring—usually do not feel sick for many years, and will only manifest symptoms if they develop the most serious complications, like cirrhosis or liver cancer.
Rarely, acute hepatitis due to hepatitis B can cause severe, even life-threatening, liver damage.
Because hepatitis B has no symptoms (only manifest when liver is already badly damaged), Domingo said, a blood test is the only way for the doctor to find out if one’s hepatitis B is active or inactive, and to offer treatment, if needed.
“To help your doctor monitor how your disease behaves over time, your doctor will need to do regular blood tests to know how much of the active virus is in your blood (the viral load). The viral load test is used to monitor and manage hepatitis B patients as viral load can tell your doctor if you need treatment for hepatitis B and how well you are responding to treatment,” Domingo said.
Maintain healthy liver
Moreover, doctors would usually recommend other preventive actions such as taking regular doses (two 300 mg capsules, three times a day) of essential phospolipids or EPL.
“Based on clinical studies, treatment with EPL improves level of membrane-bound liver enzymes, as it becomes again more flexible. Adjunct therapy such as EPL can help delay the further damage of the liver cells compared to giving none. The value it provides surpasses the cost that the advancement of liver damage brings,” explained Prof. Karl-Josef Gundermann, German university lecturer and consultant who recently shared his expertise on EPL before the patient organization and members of the media.
The EPL has been shown to have regenerative effect on liver cells, so it may help protect the liver from damage caused by excessive or prolonged intake of alcohol or medication, fat deposits as a result of obesity, diabetes, high cholesterol and triglycerides (fats in the blood) as well as infection.
Although taking care of one’s liver still involves eating a balanced diet, exercising regularly and limiting if not avoiding alcoholic drinks, the intake of EPL will go a long way in maintaining a healthy and effective liver functions. “But I would not advise drinking so much alcohol and then taking EPL afterward as a form of antidote,” Gundermann said.
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