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Everything You Need To Know About Hepatitis

What is hepatitis?

Hepatitis in general refers to inflammation of the liver. This may or may not result in jaundice which refers to yellow discoloration of eyes, urine and skin of the patient.

There are many causes of hepatitis. Viral hepatitis is caused by a virus. Viral hepatitis can either be acute (lasting less than 6 months) or chronic (lasting more than 6 months). Viral hepatitis can be spread from person to person. Some types of viral hepatitis can be spread through sexual contact.

Several viruses are known to cause hepatitis. Common forms of viral hepatitis include:

Hepatitis A and  Hepatitis E: A common problem in our country due to poor sanitation and hygiene. This is the classical form of hepatitis resulting from water and food borne transmission  This form of hepatitis does not lead to a chronic infection and usually has no complications. The liver usually heals from hepatitis A and E within 2 months. However, occasional deaths from hepatitis A have occurred due to liver failure. Hepatitis A has an excellent vaccine available and all vulnerable age groups should be vaccinated for the same. Hepatitis E currently has no approved vaccine.

Hepatitis B: This is the most common cause of hepatitis causing chronic liver disease, liver failure and liver cancer in our country.  More than 70% of all cases of hepatitis B affect young people between the ages of 15 and 39. Most people recover from the virus within 6 months. However, a few cases cause a life-long, chronic infection. Chronic hepatitis causes ongoing damage to the liver. This results in permanent liver damage and cancer. The earlier in life hepatitis B is contracted, the more likely it is to become chronic. People can carry the virus without feeling sick. These people can still spread the virus. Hepatitis B can be prevented by getting a vaccine which is now a part of our national vaccination schedule.

Hepatitis C: Hepatitis C is one of the most common causes of liver disease in the U.S., and the number one reason for liver transplant. This is common in IV drug addicts, people who get hepatitis from transfusions and rarely sexual contact. At least 80% of patients with hepatitis C develop a chronic liver infection. About 3.2 million people are estimated to have chronic hepatitis C infection. It often does not show any symptoms. No vaccine is yet available to prevent hepatitis C.

However if discovered in time, excellent treatment can cure this dreaded disease.

Alcoholic Hepatitis: One of the most important and deadly diseases to strike the liver. Be warned, there is no safe limit of alcohol consumption. The disease strikes in people who habitually take alcohol and especially in those who take large quantities of alcohol. This requires early diagnosis and treatment to prevent progression of acute liver disease to chronic liver disease. There are no specific warning signs of alcoholic hepatitis and the presentation is like all the other hepatitis like illnesses.

Most people recover from hepatitis, and the disease is often preventable. However, it is still considered a serious health risk because it can:

  1. Destroy liver tissue.
  2. Spread easily from person to person.
  3. Weaken the body's immune system.
  4. Cause the liver to fail.
  5. Cause liver cancer.
  6. Cause death.

How does someone get or spread hepatitis?

A person can get hepatitis A or E from eating food or drinking water carrying the virus. A person can get hepatitis B in many ways, including:

  1. Having sex with an infected person.
  2. Sharing dirty needles.
  3. Being in direct contact with infected blood.
  4. Getting needle stick injuries.
  5. Being transferred from mother to unborn child.
  6. Being in contact with an infected person's body fluids.

An infected mother has a high chance of giving hepatitis B to her child during or after birth. All pregnant women should be tested for hepatitis B. Within 12 hours of birth, infants born to mothers with hepatitis B need to receive treatment with hepatitis B antibody and hepatitis B vaccine. This can prevent transmission of hepatitis B from mother to the baby.

A person can get hepatitis C from:

  1. Sharing dirty needles.
  2. Being in direct contact with infected blood.
  3. Getting needle stick injuries.
  4. Having sex with an infected person (less common).

What are the symptoms of hepatitis?

The most common symptoms of hepatitis include:

  1. Dark urine (hepatitis A, B, C)
  2. Stomach pain (hepatitis B, C)
  3. Yellow skin or eye whites, called jaundice (hepatitis A, B, C)
  4. Pale or clay-colored stool (hepatitis A, C)
  5. Low-grade fever (hepatitis A, B, C)
  6. Loss of appetite (hepatitis A, B, C)
  7. Fatigue (hepatitis A, B, C)
  8. Feeling sick to your stomach (hepatitis A, B, C)
  9. Aching joints (hepatitis B)

What to do if you get hepatitis?

A basic evaluation of your liver function will be done by your physician which entails clinical examination, blood investigation for liver function test and hepatitis viruses, an ultrasound exam for the liver and few supportive investigations for liver illness.

Does everyone require hospitalisation?

No, everyone will not require a hospital stay. If a person is not able to take orally, has profuse vomiting, dehydration, hgh grade fever then a hopsital stay for a brief period is required .

The danger signs are drowsiness, abdominal swelling with fluid or bleeding from natural orifices. These will most certainly require hospital stay.

So dear friends lets watch our food, manage weight well, avoid unhygienic food and alcohol, get vaccinated for hepatitis B and manage liver problems in time for a good liver health.

Dr. Sharad Malhotra
Senior Consultant & HOD
Gastroenterology

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