What is hepatitis?
Hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver. The disease is characterised by a reduced liver function, as the presence of inflammatory cells in the liver causes liver cells to be destroyed. Several factors cause hepatitis and treatment is important to avoid cirrhosis of the liver.
Depending on the duration of the disease, hepatitis can be either acute or chronic. Symptoms of acute hepatitis occur quickly, typically lasting up to six months after exposure. Chronic hepatitis is a long-term inflammatory condition lasting longer than six months.
What are the symptoms of hepatitis?
Acute and chronic hepatitis symptoms include:
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss
- Abdominal pain – typically below the ribs in the right side
- Joint pain
- Jaundice, or yellowing of the skin and eyes.
What are the causes of hepatitis?
Several factors can cause hepatitis. It can occur as a result of side effects from various types of medications or after a long period of alcohol abuse.
Some people suffer from a type of hepatitis where the body’s own immune system erroneously start attacking the liver cells thus causing inflammation. This type of hepatitis is called autoimmune hepatitis. Another type is called viral hepatitis, as it is caused by a virus causing an inflammation of the liver. Viral infections of the liver that are classified as hepatitis include hepatitis A, B, C, D, and E. The most common viruses to cause hepatitis include hepatitis A, B, and C. Hepatitis B and C are most likely to become ongoing and chronic. Hepatitis A and E are most commonly transmitted by eating food or water contaminated by faeces from a person infected with hepatitis A. Hepatitis B and C are transmitted through contact with infectious blood and other body fluids such as sperm – this is why it is very important to avoid sharing syringes and to always use a condom when having sex with an infected partner. Hepatitis D is only contagious to people who are already infected with hepatitis B.
How is hepatitis treated?
As hepatitis can be caused by multiple factors, the treatment will depend on the underlying cause. It is always recommended to avoid consumption of alcohol, as alcohol will aggravate the disease regardless of cause.
Acute viral hepatitis can’t be treated using medications, but patients can try to alleviate the symptoms and make sure that they get enough to eat and drink. Chronic viral hepatitis can be treated using antiviral medications, as this type of medication will try to get rid of the virus, so the liver is able to heal. In addition, using antiviral medication is important to reduce the risk of liver cancer or cirrhosis of the liver.
Autoimmune hepatitis is also treated using a treatment called glucocorticoid which suppresses the immune system and thus the erroneous attack on the body’s own cells.
In severe cases, a liver transplant might be necessary, however, this only happens rarely.
It is possible to prevent hepatitis A and B with vaccination. In addition, it is important that a person infected with hepatitis B or C covers open wounds, practices safe sex and good hygiene by not sharing razors and toothbrushes with other people.