Hepatitis can be a bit confusing since there are many types and causes. To help you get a better understanding, here is a quick guide to everything you need to know about hepatitis.
What is Hepatitis?
An inflammatory condition of your liver is called hepatitis. The most common cause of this condition is hepatitis viruses, but many other things could cause hepatitis.
One example of hepatitis that is not caused by a virus is autoimmune hepatitis. While people are not sure how it is caused, it may be caused by environmental factors and genetics.
Your liver works hard for your body to fight infection, process nutrients, etc. When it gets damaged or inflamed, the function can get affected.
Types of Hepatitis
Different viruses are responsible for each type of hepatitis. The following types of hepatitis include:
This is a short-term, acute disease. This infection is caused by the hepatitis A virus. It often comes from consuming water or food contaminated with the feces of a person who has hepatitis A.
Infectious body fluids that have the hepatitis B virus cause the spread of hepatitis B. Examples of the infectious body fluid includes semen, vaginal secretions, blood, etc. Around 350 million people have this chronic condition.
Hepatitis C is a potentially chronic disease. It spreads through direct contact with some infected body fluids, usually through sexual contact or injection drug use.
This is a serious liver condition, also referred to as delta hepatitis, which is caused by the hepatitis D virus. It gets transmitted through direct contact with blood infected with hepatitis D.
However, this is a rare condition. It can only develop when a person has hepatitis B, otherwise, the hepatitis D virus cannot multiply.
This is caused by the hepatitis E virus and it is a waterborne disease. Hepatitis E is normally found in places with poor sanitation, often from ingesting water that is contaminated with feces. It is often seen in Africa, Central America, Asia, and the Middle East.
Symptoms of Hepatitis
Acute hepatitis symptoms can appear quickly. However, chronic hepatitis can develop slowly, which can make it hard to notice. Some of the following symptoms of hepatitis can include:
- Jaundice, which can cause yellow eyes and skin
- Weight loss with no known cause
- Loss of appetite
- Abdominal pain
- Pale stool
- Dark urine
- Flu-like symptoms, which can include dry cough, stuffy/runny nose, sore throat, etc.
Causes and Risks
As mentioned earlier, hepatitis is often caused by a virus, typically from contaminated blood, food, water, sexual contact, etc. However, some things can cause non-infectious toxins, which can include:
Alcohol along with other toxins
You can inflame your liver and damage it from excessive alcohol consumption. This can cause what is known as alcoholic hepatitis. It could cause permanent damage, cirrhosis, and liver failure.
Additionally, overdose or overuse of medications can cause hepatitis. Exposure to poisons could also lead to hepatitis.
Autoimmune System Response
Your immune system might think your liver is harmful and attack it in some cases, which can cause autoimmune hepatitis. The inflammation can be mild or severe. It is three times more common to find in women compared to men.
How is Hepatitis Diagnosed?
A doctor may check your history to see what your risks of getting infectious/non-infectious hepatitis are. Additionally, a doctor may perform a physical exam to look for jaundice, an enlarged liver, and a tender/painful abdomen.
A doctor may also take blood samples to test how well your liver works. Other blood tests may also be performed to look for viruses that can cause hepatitis. They may also look for antibodies that would be seen in diseases, such as autoimmune hepatitis.
Your doctor may also perform an abdominal ultrasound to look at your liver and other organs nearby. It may show gallbladder abnormalities, liver tumors, liver enlargement/damage, fluid in the abdomen, etc.
Your doctor may take a tissue sample of your liver for a liver biopsy. A doctor often does this with an ultrasound.
Prevention and Treatments
How Do You Prevent Hepatitis?
To avoid getting hepatitis E and A, it would always be wise to practice good hygiene. You may want to avoid the following when you visit a developing country:
- Raw veggies and fruit
- Undercooked/raw oysters and shellfish
- Local water
Hepatitis B, C, and D can be caused by contaminated blood. It can be avoided by:
- Avoiding contact with infected blood
- Not using a different person’s toothbrush
- Not sharing razors
- Not sharing drug needles
Intimate sexual contact and sexual intercourse can cause hepatitis B and C. To stay safe and reduce your chance of infection, you can try the following:
- Dental dams
- Regular STI check-ups for both you and your partner
Additionally, you can get vaccinations to prevent hepatitis A and B.
How is Hepatitis Treated?
Two things can determine how your hepatitis gets treated: if it is acute or chronic and what kind of hepatitis you have. The following treatment may be expected for each type:
This is a short-term condition, and may not need treatment in some cases. A doctor may have nutrition and hydration recommendations if you experience diarrhea or vomiting. Bed rest is usually suggested if you are in pain.
Specific treatment may not be needed for acute hepatitis B. Antiviral medication may be given for chronic hepatitis B. This treatment can span for months to years and may involve monitoring and medical evaluation to see how the virus responds to treatment.
Antiviral medication may be used to treat chronic and acute hepatitis C. A mixture of antiviral drug therapies could be given to those who get chronic hepatitis C.
People with hepatitis C can get liver disease or cirrhosis. People may need a liver transplant because of the damage.
There are currently no known antiviral medications that can be used to treat this form of hepatitis. While a drug named alpha-interferon could be used as a treatment, only 25-30% of people see signs of improvement.
However, getting a vaccination for hepatitis B could be helpful. That is because hepatitis D cannot occur unless the hepatitis B infection is present.
As of now, there is no specific treatment for hepatitis E. However, it tends to resolve by itself because this infection is usually acute.
For most people with hepatitis E, a doctor may suggest avoiding alcohol, getting adequate nutrients and rest, drinking lots of fluids, etc. However, pregnant women may need care and to be monitored.
To treat autoimmune hepatitis early, corticosteroids may be needed. It often works for 80% of people who have autoimmune hepatitis.
Imuran may also be given to suppress the immune system. However, other immune-suppressing drugs like cyclosporine may be given as an alternative.
Hepatitis is a condition that can be highly preventable. It would be wise to remember the information above to learn how to prevent and treat it.
Learn more about Digestive Health here.
Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.