What is hepatitis?
Hepatitis refers to an inflammatory condition of the liver. It’s commonly caused by a viral infection, but there are other possible causes of hepatitis. These include autoimmune hepatitis and hepatitis that occurs as a secondary result of medications, drugs, toxins, and alcohol. Autoimmune hepatitis is a disease that occurs when your body makes antibodies against your liver tissue.
Alcohol and other toxins
Excessive alcohol consumption can cause liver damage and inflammation. This is sometimes referred to as alcoholic hepatitis. The alcohol directly injures the cells of your liver. Over time, it can cause permanent damage and lead to liver failure and cirrhosis, a thickening and scarring of the liver.
Other toxic causes of hepatitis include overuse or overdose of medications and exposure to poisons.
Autoimmune system response
In some cases, the immune system mistakes the liver as a harmful object and begins to attack it. It causes ongoing inflammation that can range from mild to severe, often hindering liver function. It’s three times more common in women than in men.
Viral infections of the liver that are classified as hepatitis include hepatitis A, B, C, D, and E. A different virus is responsible for each type of virally transmitted hepatitis.
Hepatitis A is always an acute, short-term disease, while hepatitis B, C, and D are most likely to become ongoing and chronic. Hepatitis E is usually acute but can be particularly dangerous in pregnant women.
Hepatitis A is caused by an infection with the hepatitis A virus (HAV). This type of hepatitis is most commonly transmitted by consuming food or water contaminated by faeces from a person infected with hepatitis A.
Hepatitis B is transmitted through contact with infectious body fluids, such as blood, vaginal secretions, or semen, containing the hepatitis B virus (HBV). Injection drug use, having sex with an infected partner or sharing razors with an infected person increase your risk of getting hepatitis B.
Hepatitis C comes from the hepatitis C virus (HCV). Hepatitis C is transmitted through direct contact with infected body fluids, typically through injection drug use and sexual contact. HCV is among the most common blood-borne viral infections.
Also called delta hepatitis, hepatitis D is a serious liver disease caused by the hepatitis D virus (HDV). HDV is contracted through direct contact with infected blood. Hepatitis D is a rare form of hepatitis that only occurs in conjunction with hepatitis B infection. The hepatitis D virus can’t multiply without the presence of hepatitis B.
Hepatitis E is a waterborne disease caused by the hepatitis E virus (HEV). Hepatitis E is mainly found in areas with poor sanitation and typically results from ingesting faecal matter that contaminates the water supply.
What are the symptoms of hepatitis?
If you have infectious forms of hepatitis that are chronic, like hepatitis B and C, you may not have symptoms in the beginning. Symptoms may not occur until the damage affects liver function. Chronic hepatitis develops slowly, so these signs and symptoms may be too subtle to notice.
Signs and symptoms of acute hepatitis appear quickly;
- flu-like symptoms
- dark urine
- pale stool
- abdominal pain
- loss of appetite
- unexplained weight loss
- yellow skin and eyes, which may be signs of jaundice
What are the tests for hepatitis?
If hepatitis is suspected, the following tests can confirm a diagnosis:
- Blood tests: These can detect whether the body is producing antibodies to fight the disease, and they can assess liver function tests by checking the levels of certain liver proteins and enzymes.
- Nucleic acid tests: For hepatitis B and C, an HBV DNA or HCV RNA test can confirm the speed at which the virus is reproducing in the liver, and this will show how active the disease is.
- A liver biopsy: This can measure the extent of liver damage and the possibility of cancer.
- Paracentesis: Abdominal fluid is extracted and tested, to identify the cause of fluid accumulation.
- Elastography: This measures the liver’s stiffness by emitting sound waves.
- Surrogate markers: A type of blood test to assess the development of cirrhosis and fibrosis.
Treatment will depend on the diagnosis.
Tips to prevent hepatitis
Practising good hygiene is one key way to avoid contracting hepatitis A and E. If you’re travelling to other countries, you should avoid:
- local water
- raw or undercooked shellfish and oysters
- raw fruit and vegetables
Hepatitis B, C, and D contracted through contaminated blood can be prevented by:
- not sharing drug needles
- not sharing razors
- not using someone else’s toothbrush
- not touching spilt blood
Hepatitis B and C can also be contracted through sexual intercourse and intimate sexual contact. Practising safe sex by using condoms and dental dams can help decrease the risk of infection.
The use of vaccines is an important key to preventing hepatitis. Vaccinations are available to prevent the development of hepatitis A and B. Experts are currently developing vaccines against hepatitis C. A vaccination for hepatitis E exists in China.
What are the complications of hepatitis?
Chronic hepatitis B or C can often lead to more serious health problems. Because the virus affects the liver, people with chronic hepatitis B or C are at risk for:
- chronic liver disease
- liver cancer
When your liver stops functioning normally, liver failure can occur. Complications of liver failure include:
- bleeding disorders
- a buildup of fluid in your abdomen, known as ascites
- increased blood pressure in portal veins that enter your liver, known as portal hypertension
- kidney failure
- hepatic encephalopathy, which can involve fatigue, memory loss, and diminished mental abilities due to the buildup of toxins, like ammonia, that affect brain function
- hepatocellular carcinoma, which is a form of liver cancer
People with chronic hepatitis B and C are encouraged to avoid alcohol because it can accelerate liver disease and failure. Certain supplements and medications can also affect liver function. If you have chronic hepatitis B or C, check with your doctor before taking any new medications.
What is the main cause of hepatitis?
Hepatitis A is caused by a virus that infects liver cells and causes inflammation. The inflammation can affect how your liver works and cause other signs and symptoms of hepatitis.
Is Hepatitis A is curable?
There are no specific medicines to cure infection with hepatitis A. Most people require no treatment except to relieve symptoms. However, if symptoms become severe or dehydration develops, the person should seek medical care immediately.
Which is the most dangerous hepatitis?
There are 3 main types of hepatitis: hepatitis A, B, and C. Hepatitis C can be more severe and is the most deadly, but even those with acute illness can recover without lasting liver damage.
Which Hepatitis is sexually transmitted?
Hepatitis B (HBV) is 50 to 100 times easier to transmit sexually than HIV ( the virus that causes AIDS). HBV has been found in vaginal secretions, saliva, and semen. Oral sex and especially anal sex, whether it occurs in a heterosexual or homosexual context, are possible ways of transmitting the virus.
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