Hepatitis is not technically a condition, although physicians sometimes use the term to refer to viral infections of the liver. Technically speaking, “hepatitis” refers to the inflammation and swelling of the liver.
This condition has several causes. In addition to viral infections, hepatitis inflammation can be caused by certain parasites, consuming too much alcohol, consuming certain poisons, overdoses of some medications such as acetaminophen, or from the body’s white blood cells attacking the liver.
The most noticeable symptom of hepatitis is often severe pain in the abdomen. However, other symptoms may include dark urine, light brown stools, itching, low-grade fever, nausea, vomiting, jaundice, weight loss, or even breast development in men. People who notice that they have one or more of these symptoms should consult a physician.
Types of Hepatitis
When we hear the term hepatitis, we tend to think of hepatitis A, hepatits B, and hepatitis C. These are infections of the liver caused by a virus. Although they sound the same, these conditions are transmitted in different ways, have different prognoses, and are treated by different methods by physicians.
Hepatitis A is caused by contact with the virus through consuming contaminated food or water, contact with contaminated blood or feces, or through sexual practices that involve oral-anal contact. In most causes, treatment is not needed because most people get better on their own within 3 months. However, patients may be asked to avoid fatty foods or medications that are potentially damaging to the liver until they have made a full recovery.
Hepatitis B and C can be caused by blood transfusions with contaminated blood, sexual intercourse or contact with someone who is infected, through using intravenous drugs with contaminated needles, or by getting a tattoo or piercing with a contaminated needle. Hepatitis B often leads to liver failure, and the patient may need a liver transplant. Hepatitis C treatment includes injections with pegylated interferon alfa, taking a medication called Ribavirin, and avoiding alcohol and medications that can make the condition worse.
Alcoholic hepatitis is caused by the long-term over-consumption of alcohol. If the condition is not far advanced, ceasing drinking alcohol will allow the liver to heal itself over time. However, if the condition is advanced, the liver may not be able to heal itself and a liver transplant may be needed.
A hepatitis vaccine is available for hepatitis B and A. Most school-age children are required to have these vaccines. Avoiding consuming too much alcohol, taking too many medications that may harm the liver, eating contaminated foods, contact with blood or feces, sharing needles, or unprotected sexual contact can all prevent hepatitis.