Hepatitis: Symptoms, Diagnosis & Treatment
Hepatitis is becoming more and more common these days. The disease is very dangerous and may lead to serious complications such as liver fibrosis, cirrhosis, and cancer. There are various types of hepatitis, each of which comes with different characteristics and requires different treatment plans. Hence, early detection is essential to avoid irreversible damage to the body.
What is Hepatitis?
Hepatitis is a condition that affects the liver. In the human body, the liver is responsible for metabolism, protein production, and blood detoxification. If left untreated for a long time, liver inflammation may cause liver failure, as well as changes the body’s internal environment and its ability to synthesize nutrients.
Types of Hepatitis
Depending on the causes, the disease can be divided into 2 types: viral and non-viral.
- Viral hepatitis is caused by viruses. As of now, there are a total of 5 virus types: A, B, C, D, and E. As the viruses are different in nature, each type of hepatitis have different symptoms and treatment approaches.
- Non-viral hepatitis is caused by factors other than viruses. These include excessive alcohol consumption (alcoholic hepatitis) and a malfunction in the immune system (autoimmune hepatitis).
What causes Hepatitis?
Most of the time, hepatitis is caused by viruses. However, infections, alcohol, certain medications, and autoimmune diseases may also be contributing factors.
In the case of viral hepatitis, patients get infected in various ways. While A and E often occurs due to consuming contaminated water/ food, B, C, and D are generally caused by contact with infective body fluids (e.g: blood, semen). In short, the transmission of these viruses happens as a result of contaminated blood, invasive medical procedures, contaminated medical equipment, pregnancy, and unsafe sex.
Aside from viruses, the two most common causes are alcohol consumption and autoimmune diseases. Excessive use of alcohol may poison the liver and make it susceptible to diseases such as fatty liver and cirrhosis (scarring). In rare cases, a malfunction in the patient’s body may cause the immune system to attack and damage liver cells.
Is Hepatitis contagious?
The answer depends on the type of disease. Viral hepatitis is, in most cases, contagious. However, sometimes the condition is transmitted via blood transfer, acupuncture, needle sharing, sexual contact, and organ transplants.
For non-viral cases such as alcoholic and autoimmune hepatitis, the disease is normally non-contagious and does not spread from person to person.
Which factors can increase the risk of Hepatitis?
In general, the following factors may make people more susceptible to the disease:
- Sharing drug needles;
- Tattoos, body piercing;
- HIV infection;
- Unsafe sex (anal and oral);
- Drinking too much alcohol on a frequent basis;
- Taking certain medications such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) and methotrexate (Trexall, Rheumatrex);
- Sharing personal hygiene items with hepatitis patients;
- Eating/ drinking contaminated food/ water;
- Blood transfusion;
- Immunosuppressive treatment;
- Transmission from mother to child.
Signs & Symptoms
What are the common symptoms of Hepatitis?
Hepatitis often has no visible symptoms in its early stages. Most of the time, patients only get aware of it when the disease has become serious.
Depending on each person, the symptoms may vary in number and level of intensity. Some of the most common signs include:
- Weakness and fatigue;
- Loss of appetite/ desire to eat;
- Unexplained weight loss;
- Nausea or vomiting;
- Light-colored stool;
- Joint or muscle pain;
- Dark urine;
- Yellow eyes/ skin (jaundice);
- Abdominal pain;
- Mental changes (e.g: lack of concentration, drowsiness, confusion);
How dangerous is Hepatitis?
Without early diagnosis and proper treatment, hepatitis can cause serious liver damage and develop into much more dangerous diseases.
At the first stage, the liver tissues become stiffer – this is known as liver fibrosis. As the condition gets worse over time, the patient may suffer from scarring in the liver (i.e: cirrhosis). One this happens, 50% of people will develop a serious complication within the next 5-10 years. In extreme cases, hepatitis may eventually transform into liver cancer.
Diagnosis & Treatment
How is Hepatitis diagnosed?
In most cases, people are diagnosed during their routine health check-ups. In order to detect the disease, the doctor will need to examine the patient’s liver via a blood test. The test’s purpose is to check the following things:
- Alanine aminotransferase (ALT), aspartate aminotransferase (AST) and alkaline phosphatase (ALP) – An increase in the level of these substances is a strong indicator of liver damage;
- Bilirubin – High levels of bilirubin in the blood are common among those who suffer from liver disease;
- Albumin and protein (TP) – Normal levels of these two substances in the blood may indicate that the liver is still functioning properly.
The disease’s type and severity will determine which method is the optimal treatment.
- Medications. Drugs like interferon, Protease inhibitors (PIs), Polymerase inhibitors to prevent the viruses’ reproduction and strengthen the body.
- Liver transplant. For patients whose liver damage is too severe, liver transplantation is another option. Due to the procedure’s complexity, the evaluation process may take up several months.
How to prevent Hepatitis?
Depending on each type you are suffering from, there are different ways to prevent the disease. For A and E, the key preventive measure is good hygiene. This involves staying away from raw, uncooked foods and vegetables, as well as washing hands after using the toilet.
For B, C, and D, the main transmission method is through contact with contaminated body fluids. Therefore, do not use the same drug needles, toothbrushes and razors with other people. Also, it is advisable that you practice safe sex by using items such as condoms. By doing so, the risk of the disease will be significantly lowered.
On the other hand, patients should avoid the consumption of alcohol, as it can lead to liver failure and other complications. In addition, certain supplements and medications may also negatively affect your liver’s function. To figure out which medications to refrain from, please consult your doctor.
For newborn babies, the use of vaccines is crucial to protect the liver and their overall health in the long run. As of now, vaccinations for hepatitis A, B, and E are already available. Meanwhile, researchers are still working on creating vaccines to deal with hepatitis C.
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