What is Hepatitis?

Hepatitis is inflammation of the liver. Hepatitis can occur as a short-term (acute) or long-term (chronic) infection. Whether or not you experience acute or chronic hepatitis depends on the type of hepatitis you have.

What Causes Hepatitis?

The different types of hepatitis have different causes:

  • Viral Hepatitis: this type of hepatitis is caused by exposure to a viral strain. The known existing strains are A, B, C, D, and E. In the United States, strains A, B, and C are the most common. 

  • Hepatitis A and E are spread through contaminated food or water

  • Hepatitis B, C, and D are spread through contact with any blood or bodily fluids of an infected individual 

  • Toxic Hepatitis: this type of hepatitis occurs due to excessive exposure to toxins, poisons, chemicals, supplements, or medications.

  • Alcoholic hepatitis: this type of hepatitis occurs due to excessive alcohol consumption 

  • Autoimmune hepatitis: this type of hepatitis occurs when the body’s immune system attacks the liver. The cause is not yet known, but genetics and the surrounding environment are thought to play a role. 

What are the Symptoms of Hepatitis?

The symptoms of hepatitis include but are not limited to:

  • Abdominal pain

  • Fever

  • Fatigue

  • Dark urine/ Clay-like bowel movements

  • Joint pain

  • Jaundice (yellowing of the eyes and skin)

  • Loss of appetite 

It is important to note that not every infected individual will show symptoms and the time at which symptoms begin to appear to vary from person to person. Individuals with acute hepatitis can experience symptoms anywhere from two to six months after the initial infection. Individuals with chronic hepatitis may not experience symptoms until years after the initial infection. 

How is Hepatitis Diagnosed?

  • Your doctor may perform a number of exams which may include the following:

  • Blood tests to check for viral hepatitis 

  • Ultrasounds/CT scans/MRI scans to check for signs of scarring and liver damage

  • Liver biopsy to analyze liver tissue and determine the extent of damage 

How is Hepatitis Treated?

Hepatitis treatment is dependent on the type of hepatitis and whether it is an acute or chronic infection. Acute viral infections typically clear up on their own and require rest and plenty of intake of fluids. More serious cases of hepatitis infection may call for the following treatment plans:

  • Antibiotic/ medication regimen 

  • Alcohol-free diet for individuals with alcoholic hepatitis 

  • Liver resection in which damaged parts of the liver are removed surgically

  • Liver transplant in extreme cases where the liver is failing or cancer is present 

Some preventative measures for certain types of hepatitis exist such as vaccinations for hepatitis A and B, limiting alcohol intake, and being cautious when potentially exchanging bodily fluids with another individual be it through recreational drug use or unprotected sex. There are no preventative measures for autoimmune hepatitis, but early detection and treatment can aid in slowing the progression of the disease. 

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