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What is Hepatitis?

Hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver. The condition can be self-limiting or can progress to fibrosis (scarring), cirrhosis or liver cancer. Hepatitis viruses are the most common cause of hepatitis in the world but other infections, toxic substances (e.g. alcohol, certain drugs), and autoimmune diseases can also cause hepatitis.

Acute infection may occur with limited or no symptoms, or may include symptoms such as jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes), dark urine, extreme fatigue, nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain.

Hepatitis A

This type derives from 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

This type derives from an infection with the hepatitis B virus (HBV). This type is transmitted through puncture wounds or contact with infectious body fluids, such as blood, saliva, or semen. 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

This type 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.

Hepatitis D

This is also called delta hepatitis. Hepatitis D is a serious liver disease caused by the hepatitis D virus (HDV). HDV is contracted through puncture wounds or contact with infected blood. Hepatitis D is a rare form of hepatitis that occurs in conjunction with hepatitis B infection.

Hepatitis E

Hepatitis E is a waterborne disease caused by the hepatitis E virus (HEV). Hepatitis E is mainly found in areas with poor sanitation and is typically caused by ingesting fecal matter.

Hepatitis A and E are normally contracted from eating contaminated food or drinking contaminated water. Hepatitis B, C, and D are contracted through contaminated blood. These forms of hepatitis can be either acute or chronic. Types B and C usually become chronic.

Causes of Nonviral Hepatitis

Alcoholic hepatitis

Liver inflammation caused by drinking too much alcohol.

Autoimmune hepatitis

Inflammation in the liver that occurs when the immune system attacks the liver.

Common Symptoms of Hepatitis

If you have forms of hepatitis that are usually chronic (hepatitis B and C), you may not have symptoms in the beginning. Symptoms may not occur until liver damage occurs.

Signs and symptoms of acute hepatitis appear quickly. They include:

  • fatigue
  • 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

How Is Hepatitis Diagnosed?

Physical Exam

During a physical examination, your doctor may press down gently on your abdomen to see if there’s pain or tenderness. Your doctor may also feel to see if your liver is enlarged. If your skin or eyes are yellow, your doctor will note this during the exam.

Liver Biopsy

A liver biopsy is an invasive procedure that involves the doctor taking a sample of tissue from your liver. This is a closed procedure. In other words, it can be done through the skin with a needle and doesn’t require surgery. This test allows your doctor to determine if an infection or inflammation is present or if liver damage has occurred.

Liver Function Tests

Liver function tests use blood samples to determine how efficiently the liver works. These tests check how the liver clears blood waste, protein, and enzymes. High liver enzyme levels may indicate that the liver is stressed or damaged.

Ultrasound

An abdominal ultrasound uses ultrasound waves to create an image of the organs within the abdomen. This test will reveal fluid in the abdomen, an enlarged liver, or liver damage.

Blood Tests

Blood tests used to detect the presence of hepatitis virus antibodies and antigen in the blood will indicate or confirm which virus is the cause of the hepatitis.

Viral Antibody Testing

Further viral antibody testing may be needed to determine if a specific type of the hepatitis virus is present.

Tips to Prevent Hepatitis

Hygiene

Practicing good hygiene is one key way to avoid contracting hepatitis. If you’re traveling to a developing country, you should avoid:

  • drinking local water
  • ice
  • seafood
  • raw fruit and vegetables

Hepatitis contracted through contaminated blood can be prevented by:

  • not sharing drug needles
  • not sharing razors
  • not using someone else’s toothbrush
  • not touching spilled blood

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