Doctors and Specialists Who Can Treat Hepatitis

If you have hepatitis, you may be wondering who can treat your hepatitis. Well, a hepatitis specialist can help. But do you know the difference between the different kinds of clinicians who can treat your hepatitis? To help you understand who does what, here's a short description of the different professionals who might work in your healthcare setting.

Doctor in scrubs reviewing paperwork in clinic office
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Types of Practitioners

The next time you visit a hospital, clinic, or office, take a moment to view the lobby directory. In the past, someone might only see one or two types of clinicians listed there. Today, however, there are many types, each with different levels of training, who provide a valued part of your healthcare needs.

  • Physicians who earn the doctor of medicine degree (MD) or doctor of osteopathic medicine (DO) degree can be licensed to practice medicine and surgery by a state medical board. These doctors complete four years of training in medical school and then complete an additional training program of at least three years' duration (called a residency program) in preparation for a specialty. Each specialty program requires a different duration of study. For example, most of the primary care specialties, such as family medicine or internal medicine, are three or four years in length. Surgical specialties require at least five years of training. Physicians have the training to completely manage your hepatitis, whether acute or chronic, viral or non-viral.
  • Nurses are a crucial part of the healthcare system and are frequently described as being the eyes and arms of physicians. They implement treatment plans and alert the doctor of any problems. With this said, the profession is incredibly diverse, and people with nursing degrees are found in many different settings, not just clinical. Nurses complete several levels of training, but the standard is earning a four-year bachelor's of science in nursing (BSN), followed by extensive testing and licensing as an RN. Nurses at this level of training neither diagnose illnesses nor prescribe medications but have significant patient care experience.
  • Nurse Practioners are nurses who receive advanced clinical training (also called NPs) and are licensed to diagnose some illnesses and prescribe some medication. These clinicians are trained for primary care and, depending on their practice, could have significant experience diagnosing and treating various forms of hepatitis.
  • Physician Assistants (also called PAs) are trained to work under the supervision of a licensed physician. With this arrangement, PAs are able to handle the less-complicated cases, which free up physicians to handle more complicated cases. In a way, PAs are physician extenders, giving the physician the ability to see more patients in a given time.
  • Alternative medicine, in its many forms, is becoming more prominent, but it's still not embraced by everyone. Many of the therapies that are considered alternative often lack convincing evidence of their usefulness. Examples of clinicians who practice in this area are chiropractic (DC) and naturopathic (ND) physicians, as well as physicians trained in traditional Asian medicine (OMD). While these clinicians may be well trained and provide helpful treatment, it is good to remember that if an alternative therapy works and has scientific support, it will eventually be incorporated into conventional medicine.

Primary Care Doctors

Most people will probably learn of their hepatitis diagnosis from their primary care clinician. Primary care is usually described as the type of routine head-to-toe medical care that everybody needs throughout their lives—such as annual check-ups, health education, and ongoing care of chronic illnesses—but it is often the first level of health care to identify health problems, such as hepatitis. In one sense, primary care is simply where you get your main medical care, but it is also the first level of entry to the American healthcare system.

Primary care providers are physicians who usually specialize in family medicine or internal medicine. These providers will have the necessary training to manage most cases of viral and chronic hepatitis. Other clinicians, like nurse practitioners and physician assistants, also provide primary care services and may have significant experience managing hepatitis depending on their level of training.

Hepatitis Specialists

Not everyone who has hepatitis needs to see a specialist. However, while many patients can be treated by their primary care doctor or nurse practitioner, sometimes a specialist needs to be involved in very complicated or unusual hepatitis cases. There are three physician specialties with training in managing hepatitis. All three begin their training as either an internist or pediatrician. From this broad training, they further specialize in specific areas of medicine.​

  • Infectious Disease: The infectious disease physician treats illness caused by microorganisms, such as viruses and bacteria. Acute viral hepatitis caused by the hepatotropic viruses (for example hepatitis A, B, and C viruses) is expertly treated by these physicians. Hepatitis not caused by viruses, such as alcoholic hepatitis, are best treated by other specialists.
  • Gastroenterologist: Gastroenterology is a subspecialty of internal medicine. These specialists focus on all of the digestive organs and processes of the body. Since the liver is an important part of metabolism and digestion, gastroenterologists are very knowledgeable in treating hepatitis.
  • Hepatologist: A gastroenterologist with extensive training in liver disease is a hepatologist. These physicians are subspecialists with many years of training and are experts in all the diseases that affect the liver, especially hepatitis.

Others Clinicians

Each of the specialists described above can focus on either adults or children. For example, a physician could be an adult gastroenterologist or a pediatric gastroenterologist. The difference in focus comes from the choice of residency after medical school. Usually, a physician enters a residency program immediately after graduating from medical school.

If the physician is interested in treating only children and teenagers, he or she will complete a pediatric residency program, which is three years of supervised medical practice. After this program, the physician can sub-specialize in a particular type of medicine, such as gastroenterology.

If the physician is only interested in treating adults, the doctor will complete a residency program in internal medicine. Afterward, he or she can also sub-specialize in a particular type of medicine.

Though it's easy to think that children are just "little adults" when it comes to medical care, this is not really true. Since children have specific medical concerns and require different medical treatments, it's always a good idea for children or teenagers to see a pediatric specialist. Unfortunately, this level of care may not be available in all places, especially in smaller cities or rural areas.

Multidisciplinary Approach

Treating hepatitis, whether it be from viral, chronic autoimmune disease, or another source, often requires a multi-specialty approach. This means that several types of physicians come together to provide expert care. It may be that in your case, you will be treated by several different sub-specialist physicians. '

For example, one specialist might perform a liver biopsy while another will manage the long-term therapy with drugs that have significant side effects. While these can be managed at the primary care level, often hepatitis treatment is best served at the subspecialty level, especially treatment for viral hepatitis.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What types of doctors treat hepatitis?

    If you are diagnosed with viral hepatitis or any other form of hepatitis, you would generally be referred to either a gastroenterologist, who specializes in diseases of the digestive tract (including the liver), or a hepatologist, who specializes solely in diseases of the liver.

  • Is a hepatologist or gastroenterologist better at treating hepatitis?

    One is not inherently "better" than the other. Both are board-certified as gastroenterologists and have expertise in dealing with diseases of the liver; a hepatologist has simply acquired additional training to focus on the liver. With end-stage liver disease, a transplant hepatologist is almost invariably needed.

  • When do I need an infectious disease specialist for hepatitis?

    An infectious disease specialist can be beneficial if a person is co-infected with HIV as they often have the expertise to manage both conditions. An infectious disease specialist is also sometimes sought if hepatitis is caused by an infectious pathogen other than hepatitis A, B, C, D, or E.

  • What is the role of a primary care doctor in treating hepatitis?

    Hepatitis cannot be managed in isolation. Your primary care doctor plays a key role in coordinating your care and ensuring that all other aspects of your health (including conditions like heart disease and diabetes) are being properly managed along with your liver disease.

  • Can alternative practitioners treat hepatitis?

    There is no direct role that alternative practitioners play, although certain practices like yoga and meditation may relieve the stress common in people with liver disease. Always advise your doctor if you are using or thinking about using complementary or alternative medicine to avoid drug interactions or substances that might harm the liver.

5 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  3. American College of Gastroenterology. Liver transplantation.

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By Charles Daniel
 Charles Daniel, MPH, CHES is an infectious disease epidemiologist, specializing in hepatitis.