Hepatitis is one of the common liver diseases and this article shines more light on its causes, treatment, the effects on the body, prevention, types, and management.
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.
There are different types and causes, but the symptoms can be similar.
Functions of the liver.
It performs many critical functions that affect metabolism throughout your body, including:
- bile production, which is essential to digestion
- filtering of toxins from your body
- excretion of bilirubin (a product of broken-down red blood cells), cholesterol, hormones, and drugs
- breakdown of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins
- activation of enzymes, which are specialized proteins essential to body functions
- storage of glycogen (a form of sugar), minerals, and vitamins (A, D, E, and K)
- synthesis of blood proteins, such as albumin
- synthesis of clotting factors
The 5 types of viral hepatitis
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 feces 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.
It’s estimated by the CDCTrusted Source that 1.2 million people in the United States and 350 million people worldwide live with this chronic disease.
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.
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 fecal matter that contaminates the water supply.
Causes of noninfectious hepatitis
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.
Common 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.
Signs and symptoms of acute hepatitis appear quickly. They include:
- 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
- Chronic hepatitis develops slowly, so these signs and symptoms may be too subtle to notice.
Hepatitis can be dangerous and difficult to treat, so people are advised to take precautions against possible infection.
Preventing hepatitis A
Hepatitis A is mostly spread through infected food and water.
The following steps can help avoid infection, especially when traveling.
Wash hands with soap after using the bathroom.
Only consume food that has just been cooked.
Only drink commercially bottled water, or boiled water if you’re unsure of local sanitation.
Only eat peelable fruits if you are in a location with unreliable sanitation
Only eat raw vegetables if you are sure they have been cleaned or disinfected thoroughly.
Get a vaccine for HAV before traveling to places where hepatitis may be endemic.
Preventing hepatitis B
To minimize the risk of transmission:
- Tell any sex partner if you are a carrier or try to find out if they carry the disease.
- Practice safe sex using condoms.
- Only use previously unused, clean needles.
- Do not share toothbrushes, razors, or manicure instruments.
- Only allow the use of well-sterilized skin perforating equipment, such as during a tattoo, piercing, or acupuncture.
- Have the HBV vaccination if you are at risk.
How to prevent hepatitis C
As this is often passed on through the transfer of infected bodily fluids, the following steps can help prevent HCV transmission:
- Do not share needles, toothbrushes, or manicure equipment.
- Make sure equipment is well-sterilized for any skin piercing.
- Consume alcohol with moderation.
- Do not inject illegal drugs.
Hepatitis A and C are curable, but hepatitis B is only preventable by vaccine. A cure is still under development.
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
- cirrhosis (hardening of the liver)
- 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