Hepatitis is inflammation of the liver. It can be caused by several specific viruses (such as hepatitis A, B and C), 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
- •Liver damage from alcohol, drugs, or poisonous mushrooms
- •An overdose of acetaminophen, which can be deadly
- •Immune cells in the body attacking the liver and causing autoimmune hepatitis
- •Fat accumulation (called fatty liver), which is often without symptoms
The severity of hepatitis depends on the cause and amount of inflammation at the beginning of the disease process. For example, hepatitis A infection may be mild or severe at first, but most patients often recover. However, certain drugs may cause severe and rapid liver damage from which the liver cells may not recover.
All types of hepatitis have similar symptoms, which include jaundice (yellow discoloration of the eyes and body), fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea and vomiting, low-grade fever, pale or clay-colored stools, dark urine, and generalized itching.
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).
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, 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.
The prognosis depends on many factors related to the actual cause of the inflammation. Other factors include additional illnesses or conditions that may complicate treatment or recovery. Most people recover fully, however it may take months for the liver to fully heal and for all symptoms to resolve.
Complications include the risk of chronic hepatitis, cirrhosis of the liver, and an increased risk of hepatocellular carcinoma (liver cancer).