Key Points about Hepatitis D
- Hepatitis D is a liver infection caused by a virus.
- Your specialist can diagnose hepatitis D using a blood test.
- Treatment for hepatitis D may involve a course of interferon medication, staying current on hepatitis A and B vaccinations and, in advanced cases, liver transplant.
Hepatitis D is an infection that causes swelling (inflammation) of the liver. Over time, hepatitis D infection can lead to decreased liver function, liver scarring and even liver cancer. Hepatitis D is rare in the United States, and you can only contract it if you already have hepatitis. This condition is also known as hepatitis delta virus.
There are two types of hepatitis D infection:
- Acute hepatitis D infection. This type comes on suddenly and usually causes more severe symptoms. This type may go away on its own after a few weeks or months.
- Chronic hepatitis D infection. This type occurs when the infections last for six months or longer. Symptoms generally come on gradually, over time, with symptoms becoming serious after several months or years.
Hepatitis D causes
Hepatitis D infection is caused by the hepatitis D virus (HDV). There are several ways HDV is transmitted. These include:
- Childbirth (from mother to baby)
- Vaginal fluids
Hepatitis D risk factors
You must have the hepatitis B infection before you can contract hepatitis D. If you have recently traveled to high-risk areas, your risk for contracting hepatitis D increases:
- Central Asia
- Pacific islands
- South America
- West Africa
Hepatitis D symptoms
In many cases, people with HDV don’t experience symptoms. When they do occur, signs and symptoms can include:
- Abdominal pain
- Dark-colored urine
- Decreased appetite
- Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes)
- Joint pain
Hepatitis D diagnosis
Your specialist will perform a blood test to diagnose hepatitis D. A blood test can determine if you have antibodies in your blood that your body creates in response to HDV. If your specialist determines that you have HDV, you may need to undergo additional testing to check for liver damage. This testing may include liver function tests or blood tests.
Hepatitis D treatment
Your specialist may recommend one or more of the following treatment options for hepatitis D:
- Interferon - your specialist may prescribe a high dose of a medication called interferon for up to one year. Interferon may help your body fight the virus and prevent it from spreading further.
- Liver transplant - if your liver is severely damaged by hepatitis D infection, you may need to undergo a liver transplant. During this procedure, your specialist removes your damaged liver and puts a donor liver in its place. The donor liver usually comes from a deceased organ donor, but, in some cases, a family member may be able to donate a partial liver.
- Vaccinations - there is no vaccine available for hepatitis D. However, your specialist may recommend you stay up to date on hepatitis A and B vaccinations. Hepatitis A and hepatitis B are other types of liver infections that can cause severe liver damage and further complicate hepatitis D.
When should I seek care?
If you experience any of these symptoms, start by voicing your concerns and symptoms to your primary care provider. From there, your doctor may suggest seeing a liver specialist for more specialized treatment.