The liver is a vital organ that helps in digestion of food, storage of energy, and detoxification of the body. Hepatitis is characterised by inflammation of the liver cells and disruption of the normal functioning of the liver. Hepatitis can either be acute or chronic. Acute hepatitis lasts for less than 6 months, while chronic hepatitis lasts longer. Severe cases of hepatitis can in turn lead to cirrhosis (scarring) or cancer of the liver.
Most forms of hepatitis show no signs of the disease at early stages and may be diagnosed years later during a routine medical check-up or following signs of liver damage. However, the most common symptom of hepatitis is jaundice, which causes a yellow discolouration of the skin and eyes, dark-coloured urine, and light-coloured stools. Some of the other symptoms include fever, muscle and joint aches, abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting, fatigue, and loss of appetite.
Types of Hepatitis
There are many types of hepatitis including drug-induced hepatitis (caused by large doses of some medications), alcoholic hepatitis (caused by heavy drinking), non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (caused by excessive amounts of fatty deposit in the liver), autoimmune hepatitis (caused by the body’s own antibodies that attack the liver), and toxic hepatitis (caused by frequent exposure to environmental toxins and chemicals).
Viral hepatitis is one of the most common forms of hepatitis. There are five different types of viral hepatitis; each named after the infecting virus – hepatitis A, hepatitis B, hepatitis C, hepatitis D and hepatitis E viruses. The symptoms produced by these viruses are similar, but the way in which they are contracted may differ.
Hepatitis A and E are transmitted through food or water contaminated by the faeces of an infected person. Hepatitis B, C and D are transmitted from an infected mother to her baby or through infected blood by sharing needles or syringes, blood transfusions or sexual contact with an infected person. Hepatitis D or the hepatitis delta virus requires the help of hepatitis B virus to grow, so if you have had hepatitis B, you are at a high risk of contracting hepatitis D as well.
To check for hepatitis, your doctor may order blood tests. You may also have to undergo a liver biopsy, where a sample of the liver is removed and examined in the lab for liver damage.
Most people with hepatitis A and E recover on their own in a few weeks. However, the primary treatment for hepatitis is antiviral medications. Your doctor may also prescribe medication for symptom relief. Your doctor may recommend liver transplant if you have serious liver damage.
It is important to take proper treatment as negligence of hepatitis can lead to chronic liver disease, cirrhosis, and liver cancer. Apart from this, you will be recommended to refrain from alcohol, take proper bed rest, stay hydrated and maintain a well-balanced diet.
Prevention is always the most effective approach against hepatitis. Hepatitis A and B can be prevented through vaccinations; however, there are no vaccinations currently available for hepatitis C, D, and E. Other preventive measures include:
- Improved sanitation and food hygiene
- Good injection practices
- Following safe sexual practices