What is Hepatitis?

Hepatitis is a viral infection that affects the liver and causes inflammation to the gland. Other causes leading to Hepatitis like autoimmune Hepatitis, and Hepatitis developing as a side effect of alcohol, toxins, drugs, and certain medications. In the case of autoimmune Hepatitis, the body generates antibodies against the liver tissues. There are different types of Hepatitis including Hepatitis A, B, C, D, and E. In chronic Hepatitis cases like Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C, no symptoms will be visible at the beginning. It will appear only when the liver functions are affected. Let us check everything related to Hepatitis in detail here.

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07 April 2021
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Hepatitis causes inflammation in the liver due to viral infection. However, there are other causes that lead to hepatitis, as well. Some of these include autoimmune hepatitis and the conditions arising as a side effect of certain medications, drugs, toxins, and alcohol. In autoimmune hepatitis, your body generates antibodies against the liver tissues.  

The liver is a vital organ in the body that is located in the right upper region of the abdomen. It is responsible for some critical functions, such as:

  • Produce bile that is essential for digestion

  • To filter toxins from the body

  • To excrete bilirubin, cholesterol, hormones, and drugs

  • To breakdown complex nutrients such as fats, carbohydrates, and proteins

  • Enzyme activation

  • Store glycogen, minerals, and vitamins

  • Synthesis of blood proteins

  • Synthesis of clotting factors

It is highly observed that most individuals are unaware of if they have hepatitis. The treatment of the condition depends on its diagnosis and the type of hepatitis you are suffering from. So, before we get to the symptoms of the disease, let us understand the types of hepatitis.

Types of Hepatitis

The table below gives a brief overview of the different types of hepatitis.

Type of Hepatitis

Description

Hepatitis A

Hepatitis A infection is caused due to the hepatitis A virus (HAV). This infection is commonly transferred by consuming food or water that is contaminated with the virus. It is an acute, short-term infection from which the patient can recover over time.

Hepatitis B

Hepatitis B is commonly transmitted when you come in contact with infected body fluids (blood, vaginal secretions, or semen) that contain the hepatitis B virus (HBV). Use of shared infectious needles, drugs, or having sex with an infected individual puts you at risk of contracting the disease.

Hepatitis C

Hepatitis C is caused due to the hepatitis C virus (HCV). It is transferred via direct contact with the infected body fluids, especially by using shared injections, drugs, or having sexual contact. It is one of the most common bloodborne viral infections.

Hepatitis D

It is also known as Delta Hepatitis. It is caused by the hepatitis D virus (HDV), which affects the liver severely. Hepatitis D is contracted via direct contact with infected blood. It is a rare type of infection and usually occurs in conjunction with Hepatitis B disease. Know that the hepatitis D virus will not multiply without the presence of hepatitis b virus.

Hepatitis E

Hepatitis E is a waterborne infection caused due to the hepatitis E virus (HEV). This disease is common in unsanitized areas and places with contaminated water.

Let us proceed to study the symptoms of Hepatitis in detail.

Symptoms of Hepatitis

In case the hepatitis condition is chronic as that of Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C, you may not experience any symptoms at the start. No symptoms are shown until the liver functions are affected. On the other hand, some common signs and symptoms of acute hepatitis include:

  • Fatigue

  • Flu-like symptoms

  • Dark urine

  • Pale stools

  • Abdominal pain

  • Appetite loss

  • Sudden weight loss

  • Yellow skin and eyes (signs of Jaundice)

In the case of chronic hepatitis, the symptoms may be more subtle.

Causes of Hepatitis

Previously, when we learnt about the types of hepatitis, we also discussed how you can contract the disease in brief. Treatment needed for the disease can get tricky if the cause of hepatitis is unknown, which can lead to further health complications. However, before we get to these complications, let us understand the causes of noninfectious hepatitis.

Causes of Non Infectious Hepatitis

1. Alcohol and Other Toxicants

It is a well-known fact that consuming excessive alcohol can damage the liver and cause inflammation. Hepatitis arising due to this is also known as alcoholic hepatitis. Here, the alcohol or intoxicating substance directly damages the liver cells. Thus, causing permanent damage and liver failure over time. Other intoxicating substances that can lead to this type of hepatitis are an overdose of medications and exposure to poisons.

2. Autoimmune System Response

For some people, their immune system sometimes mistakes the liver as a harmful entity. Because of this, there can be a continuous inflammation in the liver (ranging from mild to severe), hindering its functions. Women are three times more likely to suffer from this as compared to men.

Besides this, a few health complications can arise due to hepatitis.

Complications due to Hepatitis

In the case of chronic hepatitis B and C, since the virus affects the liver, the patient can be at the risk of acquiring:

  • Chronic liver disease

  • Cirrhosis

  • Liver cancer

Furthermore, since hepatitis disrupts normal liver functions, a few liver complications, such as the following, can occur.

  • Bleeding disorder

  • Fluid buildup in the abdomen region (known as Ascites)

  • Increase in blood pressure in the portal veins entering the liver (known as portal hypertension)

  • Kidney failure

  • Hepatic encephalopathy

  • Hepatocellular carcinoma

  • Death

If you are suffering from hepatitis B and C, your doctor will advise you against alcohol consumption as it can accelerate liver damage. Also, overuse of a few medications and supplements can affect liver functions. Before you start any medication course, ensure that you have a consultation from a medical practitioner.

Diagnosis of Hepatitis

Here’s how the doctor will diagnose you for hepatitis condition.

1. Understand your medical history and physical exam

At first, the doctor will examine your medical history to determine future complications that can potentially arise due to infectious or noninfectious hepatitis. During the physical examination, the doctor will gently press on your abdomen region for signs of pain/tenderness.

He/she might also find it necessary to check signs for liver enlargement. Besides, they will also see if your skin/eyes are yellow (jaundice) and note the same for future reference.

2. Liver function tests

The liver function tests will require your blood samples to determine the efficiency of the organ. Abnormality in the test results can indicate potential issues, especially if you show no symptoms of the same during the physical test. In case the test indicates high levels of liver enzyme, it means your liver is stressed, damaged, or not functioning  efficiently.

3. Blood tests

In case your liver function tests show an abnormality, the doctor will ask you to undergo blood tests to detect the source of the issue. With these tests, the doctors can determine the hepatitis viruses. On the other hand, it can help them understand whether the abnormality is due to autoimmune hepatitis.

Usually, a Hepatitis B surface antigen (HBsAg) blood test is done to confirm a hepatitis B virus infection in the body. If the test results are positive, it means the body is infectious for HBV, and the patient can spread it to others through blood or other body fluids.

Besides, an HCV blood test is done to detect the Hepatitis C virus. If the results are positive, it means the body was exposed to the virus. The doctor will further ask you to undergo an HCV RNA test to check if the virus is still in the body.

4. Ultrasound

Undergoing abdominal ultrasound helps the doctors take a closer look at the liver and surrounding organs. It helps in revealing the following:

  • Abdominal fluids

  • Liver damage or enlargement

  • Liver tumour

  • Abnormalities in gallbladder

Ultrasound is one of the most useful tests to determine the cause of abnormal liver function.

5. Liver biopsy

In a liver biopsy, the doctor takes a sample of your liver tissue. Usually, it is done via skin with a needle and does not require undergoing any surgery. The doctor uses ultrasound for directions during the entire process. This test helps determine the level of infection or inflammation in the liver.

Based on these various diagnosis results, the doctor will recommend the appropriate treatment.

Treatment for Hepatitis

The treatment your doctor recommends depends on the type of hepatitis infection you have. The following table gives a gist of the same.

Type of Hepatitis

Treatment Description

Hepatitis A

  • As Hepatitis A is a short-term disease, it usually does not need any treatment. Doctors will recommend bed rest if the symptoms are distressing. In case you are experiencing vomiting or diarrhoea, keep yourself hydrated and follow a simple diet.

  • In addition, Hepatitis A vaccination is available at large to prevent people from the illness. Children are vaccinated from the age of 12-18 months.

  • There is a series of two vaccines, where the Hepatitis A vaccine for adults can be combined with the Hepatitis B vaccination.

Hepatitis B

  • There is no certain treatment for acute Hepatitis B. However, chronic Hepatitis B needs antiviral medications. This treatment is expensive and can continue for several months/years.

  • Further, it also needs timely medical checkups to determine if the virus is responding to the said treatment.

  • Hepatitis B infection is prevented with vaccination and is a must-have dose for all newborns. It is a series of three vaccines that are given in the first six months of childhood.

Hepatitis C

  • Both acute and chronic Hepatitis C is treated with antiviral medications. However, chronic Hepatitis C is treated in association with antiviral drug therapies. It also needs regular tests and checkups to determine whether the virus is responding to the treatment.

  • For those with cirrhosis or liver disease caused due to Hepatitis C are most likely to undergo a liver transplant.

  • Currently, there is no vaccination for Hepatitis C.

Hepatitis D

  • There are no antiviral medications available for Hepatitis D. However, a drug known as Alpha Interferon is used for treatment but shows improvements in only 25-30% of the infected people.

  • The disease is prevented by getting a vaccination for Hepatitis B, as one needs to have Hepatitis B to develop Hepatitis D.

Hepatitis E

  • There are no specific medications for Hepatitis E. Since the disease is often acute, it resolves on its own most times.

  • Doctors usually recommend resting, increasing hydration, eating enough nutrients, and avoiding alcohol.

  • However, pregnant women suffering from Hepatitis E should be closely monitored and the necessary care should be taken.

Autoimmune Hepatitis

  • In the early treatment of autoimmune hepatitis, doctors prescribe corticosteroids such as prednisone or budesonide. These are 80% effective in most cases.

  • Besides, azathioprine is a drug often used in combination to suppress the immune system. An alternative for this drug is mycophenolate (CellCept), tacrolimus (Prograf), and cyclosporine (Neoral).

Prevention of Hepatitis

Here are a few ways you can prevent contracting hepatitis.

1. Maintaining good personal hygiene

It is essential to practice personal hygiene to avoid contraction of Hepatitis A and E. When travelling, avoid drinking local water, eating raw or undercooked shellfish and oysters, and raw fruits and vegetables. When it comes to Hepatitis B, C, and D that is contracted via infected blood, the disease can be prevented by:

  • Not sharing drugs needles

  • Not sharing razors

  • Avoid using someone’s toothbrush

  • Not touching spilt blood

Note that Hepatitis B and C can also be contracted via sexual intercourse and intimate sexual act. Hence, it is essential to practice safe sex by using condoms and dental dams, which help restrict the spread of infection.

2. Vaccination

Vaccination plays a vital role in preventing hepatitis. Multiple types of hepatitis vaccines are readily available for public use. However, ensure that you are getting vaccinated by a trustworthy health practitioner.

Conclusion

While it is true that hepatitis infection can be prevented, it is equally understandable that hepatitis can be fatal if the proper medication is not provided. Furthermore, health complications and existing health concerns can lead to complications. The treatment of these complications is expensive and can take a toll on your savings. This highlights the need for having an adequate health insurance policy in place.

Whether it is hepatitis or any other illness, a comprehensive health insurance plan ensures that medical expenses (sudden or planned) are covered. However, get in touch with your provider to know the extensive details and benefits of the policy and its limitations.

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