What is it?
Hepatitis is inflammation of the liver. It can be caused by several specific viruses (hepatitis A, B, C, E and the delta factor) as well as certain medications, autoimmune conditions and chronic alcohol abuse. In other words, there are many “types” of hepatitis and it is often necessary to see a liver specialist to help identify the exact cause.
Common causes of hepatitis:
Infections from parasites, bacteria, or viruses (such as hepatitis A, B, or C)
Liver damage from alcohol, drugs, or poisonous mushrooms
An overdose of acetaminophen (Tylenol), which is rare but deadly
Immune cells in the body attacking the liver and causing autoimmune hepatitis
Fat accumulation (called fatty liver), may be asymptomatic or associated with chronic inflammation
What are the symptoms?
All types of hepatitis have similar symptoms, which include:
jaundice (yellow discoloration of the eyes and body)
loss of appetite
nausea and vomiting
pale or clay-colored stools
How is it diagnosed?
A physical examination may reveal a tender, enlarged liver.
Blood tests are also performed to check liver function and to look for specific antibodies (protective proteins that the body’s immune system produces to fight infections) that indicate the presence of a particular hepatitis virus or other conditions.
Other tests commonly include an abdominal ultrasound, liver biopsy or paracentesis (removal of fluid from the abdomen with a needle).
How is it treated?
Hepatitis usually needs no treatment other than careful management of the underlying condition that is causing the liver damage.
Alcohol, substances that are toxic to the liver, including acetaminophen (Tylenol), and fatty foods should be avoided.
In rare instances that result in liver failure, monitoring in an intensive care unit is recommended.
A liver transplant is the only definitive cure in cases of liver failure.
Treatment focuses on reducing inflammation, symptoms and chances of spreading the infection.
Several different medications are currently available to assist in this treatment.
Are there any complications?
Complications include the risk of chronic hepatitis, cirrhosis of the liver and an increased risk of hepatocellular carcinoma (liver cancer).