Hepatitis

By:    Published: March 29, 2012

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Hepatitis is a general term used to describe an inflamed liver. In some cases, the cause is relatively harmless and the condition can be treated easily. However, there are also some very serious forms of hepatitis that require more in-depth treatment.

Definition

Hepatitis is the broad term used to refer to inflammation and swelling of the liver. There are numerous possible causes for hepatitis, including the well-known hepatitis A, B and C viruses. The severity of hepatitis is often determined by its cause.

Types

There are two main types of hepatitis. Acute hepatitis is a short-term condition that clears up relatively quickly, while chronic hepatitis is a long-term disease that could potentially have fatal results.

In addition hepatitis can vary significantly based on the cause of the condition. Some of the main types of hepatitis include:

  • Hepatitis caused by a virus, bacteria or parasite
  • Alcoholic hepatitis
  • Autoimmune hepatitis
  • Drug-induced hepatitis

Symptoms

There are several symptoms associated with hepatitis, including:

  • Jaundice (yellowing of the eyes or skin)
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Weight loss
  • Fatigue
  • Dark urine
  • Pale or clay-colored stools
  • Bad breath or a bitter taste in the mouth
  • Low-grade fever
  • General itchiness
  • Abdominal pain
  • Breast development in males

One note to keep in mind is that individuals infected with the hepatitis B or C viruses typically do not present any symptoms at first, which may make detection of the condition more difficult. In addition, these symptoms may be acute or chronic depending on the cause of the condition and other illnesses from which the individual is suffering.

Causes And Risk Factors

There are numerous causes for hepatitis, including:

  • A viral or bacterial infection of the liver
  • Liver injury caused by a toxin or poison in the body
  • Autoimmune disorders that causes the individual’s liver to be attacked by the immune system
  • Trauma to the abdomen area
  • Interruption of the normal blood supply to the liver
  • Liver damage from alcohol use
  • Medication misuse, such as an overdose of acetaminophen

The most common cause of hepatitis is one of the following three viruses:

  • Hepatitis A: The most common form of hepatitis in children, hepatitis A is present in the feces of infected individuals. It is often a mild infection that is short-term and easy to treat.
  • Hepatitis B: This virus is spread through bodily fluids. Although it can be a mild infection, hepatitis B can also lead to serious health conditions like chronic liver disease or liver cancer.
  • Hepatitis C: Hepatitis C is spread by direct contact with an infected person’s blood. It is generally very serious and is the leading reason for liver transplants in the United States.

In addition, there are two more viruses which may potentially cause hepatitis:

  • Hepatitis D: This virus is spread through direct blood contact. It only occurs in people who are also infected with hepatitis B. Having both infections is generally results in more serious symptoms and complications that just being infected with hepatitis B alone.
  • Hepatitis E: Hepatitis E is present in the feces of an infected individual. It is generally not very serious and clears up on its own.

There are several activities or conditions that may increase a person’s risk for hepatitis. With viral or bacterial hepatitis, living with or being in close contact with an infected person can increase your risk of contracting the illness. In addition, there are certain activities with an infected person that can increase that risk, such as sexual activity, sharing needles, poor hygiene or being a health care worker. Pregnant women can also pass the virus on to their baby, and getting a blood transfusion from an infected individual also increases the risk for infection.

For other types of hepatitis, risk factors include abuse of alcohol or certain medications, the use of certain drugs or toxic substances, having an autoimmune disorder or sustaining an injury to the abdomen area.

Prevention

The following are some of the best ways to prevent hepatitis:

  • Exhibit good hygiene practices. Always wash your hands thoroughly after using the bathroom and before you eat.
  • Make sure any foods you eat have been properly cleaned, especially shellfish.
  • Thoroughly clean any toilets, sinks, bedpans or other products being used by a person who is infected with a hepatitis virus.
  • Be cautious when traveling about swimming in natural waters or drinking tap water. In some areas, poor sanitation practices increase the risk of infection.
  • Get professional help if you have problems with alcohol or medication abuse.

There are also vaccines available for hepatitis A and hepatitis B. These vaccines are recommended for all individuals as part of their routine immunization.

Treatment

Some forms of hepatitis, such as those caused by hepatitis A or hepatitis E, might not require treatment since they often go away on their own in a matter of days or weeks. However, hepatitis B, C and D are usually treated with one or more medications. Certain medications are also used to help treat hepatitis that is caused by an autoimmune disorder.

With hepatitis caused by alcohol or medication misuse, the treatment may depend on individual circumstances and the particular drug that was ingested. However, regaining sobriety or stopping use of the drug in question is always recommended and may require special help from rehabilitation and addiction professionals.

Those with a type of hepatitis that has become severe and long-term may be eligible for a liver transplant. This is reserved only for very serious cases of hepatitis.

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