Hepatitis: Symptoms, types, causes, tests, and treatment
Hepatitis is a condition that refers to the inflammation of the liver, which is a large organ located on the right side of your belly. The liver is a vital organ that filters blood in your body and breaks down toxic and external substances, such as alcohol and medicines. It also produces bile, which helps in the digestion of fats and takes away the waste.
Symptoms: How do you know if you have hepatitis?
Hepatitis can be acute or chronic. While chronic forms might continue damaging the liver without giving any signs at the beginning or very subtle signs if at all, acute inflammation of the liver causes signs and symptoms to appear quickly.
Symptoms of hepatitis include:
- Pain in the abdomen
- Loss of appetite
- Unexplained weight loss
- Signs of jaundice like yellow skin and eyes
- Fatigue and malaise
- Dark urine
- Pale stool
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Causes: What can give you hepatitis?
Most cases of hepatitis are caused due to a viral infection. There can be other possible causes of liver inflammation too, such as autoimmune hepatitis, alcohol, illicit drugs, and certain medicine. Autoimmune hepatitis means your body is making antibodies against your liver tissue.
Viral infections of the liver:
Viral hepatitis can be of 5 types depending on the different types of viruses that are responsible for its transmission, namely hepatitis A virus (HAV), hepatitis B virus (HBV), hepatitis C virus (HCV), hepatitis D virus (HDV), and hepatitis E virus (HCV).
- Hepatitis A: Hepatitis A virus (HAV) is most commonly transmitted by consuming food or water contaminated by feces from a person infected with hepatitis A.
- Hepatitis B: Hepatitis B virus spreads through contact with body fluids, such as blood, vaginal secretions, or semen, infected with HBV. Sexual act with an infected partner, injection drug use, or sharing razors with an infected person puts you at risk of getting hepatitis B.
- Hepatitis C: Hepatitis C virus is contracted in ways similar to HBV- through direct contact with infected body fluids via injection drug use and sexual contact.
- Hepatitis D: Hepatitis D virus is transmitted through direct contact with infected blood. It is noteworthy that hepatitis D only occurs in conjunction with hepatitis B infection since the HDV cannot multiply in absence of HBV.
- Hepatitis E: Hepatitis E virus spreads through contaminated water. It is prevalent in areas with poor sanitation.
- Alcohol: Alcohol is a major determinant of liver health. Excessive alcohol consumption can cause liver damage and inflammation often called alcoholic hepatitis.
- Other causes: Overuse or overdose of certain medications and exposure to poisons can also damage your liver cells.
- Autoimmune disease: Your body’s defense system mistakenly damages the liver cells. This results in ongoing inflammation, often interfering with liver function.
Tests for hepatitis: How is hepatitis diagnosed?
First and foremost, your doctor will examine you to take a medical history and understand your symptoms. Along with the physical examination, you may be advised to undergo certain tests to confirm the condition.
Liver function tests: A liver function test is a simple blood test. It checks the most basic parameters that tell how efficiently your liver works. Any abnormality in the results serves as the first-level indication of a problem, much before the symptoms appear.
Ultrasound: An abdominal ultrasound allows your doctor to take a close look at the internal images of your liver and nearby organs. This can reveal internal signs like fluid in your abdomen and liver enlargement, that are otherwise difficult to be diagnosed.
Other blood tests: Your doctor might also recommend blood tests other than liver function tests to identify the source of the problem. While some tests can check for the hepatitis viruses, a few look for antibodies commonly found in autoimmune hepatitis.
Liver biopsy: This is a procedure in which a sample of tissue is taken from your liver and tested for any abnormality. Please note that biopsy does not require surgery.
Treatment: How is hepatitis treated?
Your treatment options will be determined by the type of hepatitis you are affected with and whether the infection is acute or chronic.
- Hepatitis A: It is a short-term illness and generally does not require treatment. The condition is self-limiting with adequate bed rest, optimum hydration, and nutritious food.
- Hepatitis B: No specific treatment is needed for acute cases. You will get antiviral medicines for chronic hepatitis B. It can be continued for several months or years.
- Hepatitis C: Antiviral medicines will be required to treat both acute and chronic forms of hepatitis C. Those people who develop liver scarring (cirrhosis) due to chronic hepatitis C might need a liver transplant as well.
- Hepatitis D and E: Specific antiviral agents do not exist for the treatment of hepatitis D as yet. Hepatitis E might also resolve on its own without needing any specific medical treatment.
- Autoimmune hepatitis: Early treatment includes corticosteroids, such as prednisone or budesonide. They have been found to be beneficial in around 80% of people affected with this condition. In addition to steroids, other drugs that suppress the immune system might also work. These medicines include azathioprine, mycophenolate, tacrolimus, and cyclosporine.
- Alcoholic hepatitis: Liver inflammation caused due to excessive alcohol consumption is usually reversible with complete cessation of drinking. Medical therapies can help ease the signs and symptoms of liver damage. However, if the liver damage is severe, it cannot be reversed and is life-threatening.
The Final word
You can protect your liver against hepatitis by taking certain precautions. Vaccination against hepatitis A and B can be the easiest way to guard against infectious viruses. Practice safe sex and say no to alcohol. Make sure to show extra care to this vital organ through regular lab tests and medical evaluation.
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