What is Hepatitis?
Hepatitis is an inflammation of your liver which can be acute (short term) or chronic (long term).
This condition can manifest as a result of certain toxins, such as alcohol, or an autoimmune disorder. Some medications can also cause hepatitis.
However, the most common cause of hepatitis are viral infections. There are five primary types of the condition: A,B,C,D and E. (1)
Your liver plays many important roles in your body. It helps to clean toxins from the blood, and convert nutrients into energy we can use. (2)
Certain forms of hepatitis can occur without symptoms and eventually resolve themselves.
Other types can advance and cause damage to your liver, such as permanent scarring.
When your liver is inflamed, you may begin to show symptoms. These can include:
Fatigue is extreme tiredness that doesn’t get better with rest. It can be a sign of hepatitis. (3)
Your liver is located in the abdominal region. If it is inflamed and swells up, you may feel discomfort in your abdomen.
This can range from a dull, mild sensation to severe abdominal pain. (4)
Itchy skin can be a symptom of hepatitis. If your liver is damaged and not processing toxins as it should, they will build up in your body.
This can result in itching which can be hardly noticeable or very disruptive. The itching may get worse in the evenings and is unrelieved by scratching. (5)
Dark urine can be an indication of liver malfunction. Bilirubin, a toxin normally filtered by the liver, can build up and turn your urine darker. (6)
Hepatitis can result in jaundice. This is when your skin, eyes and mucus membranes (i.e. lips) turn yellow.
Jaundice can indicate liver damage or dysfunction. It should be addressed immediately. (7)
The stages of hepatitis depend on the cause and type. Hepatitis can develop as follows:
Autoimmune hepatitis is a disorder of the autoimmune system. It is caused when your immune system self-attacks the liver.
The condition is relatively uncommon. Symptoms can manifest rapidly or gradually depending on the individual. (8)
This self-limiting virus is transmitted through contaminated water or food. You can also catch it from an infected individual.
It has an incubation period of between 14 to 28 days. You will likely recover in a maximum of several months.
Once you have been infected with hepatitis A, you will be permanently immune to reinfection. (9)
Hepatitis B incubates between 30 to 180 days, 75 days being the average. It is spread through bodily fluids, such as semen and blood.
You will recover from the symptoms of acute hepatitis B. However it can develop into a chronic condition that causes liver scarring.
The virus is more likely to become chronic in infants and young children. Once you are infected with the virus, you will have it for life. (10)
Hepatitis C is usually transmitted through infected blood, such as unsterilized medical equipment.
The virus has an incubation period between two weeks and six months.
Some individuals can clear the virus on their own. Others will require treatment to cure it. (11)
You can develop hepatitis D only if you have hepatitis B. You can catch it through the bodily fluids of a person who already has the infection.
Hepatitis D can be acute or chronic. If you have chronic hepatitis B, you are significantly more likely to develop severe chronic hepatitis D.
As with hepatitis B, you will always have the hepatitis D virus in your body. (12)
This virus is usually transmitted through water which is contaminated with feces. The virus incubates for an average of five to six weeks.
Typical hepatitis symptoms (i.e. jaundice, abdominal pain, etc) will last for one to six weeks. (13)
In healthy adults, the virus will clear on its own. However, it is more likely to become chronic in individuals with weak immune systems. (14)
If you present with symptoms of hepatitis, your doctor will likely perform a blood test. This will reveal the presence of any viruses. (15)
Your medical history and any medications you take will also be reviewed. This will allow your doctor to identify if hepatitis is a result of a condition or a certain medication. (16)
You may also receive tests to check your liver function. These tests can reveal if there is any damage to your liver and if so, how severe it is. (17)
Hepatitis A typically resolves itself within a few months. It is important to rest and take mild painkillers to reduce symptoms such as muscle pain.
You should also take care not to pass the virus to others. Try to avoid contact with others as much as possible for a minimum of one week after symptoms manifest. (18)
Acute hepatitis B is treated in a similar manner. You may receive over the counter drugs like aspirin to reduce symptoms.
Hepatitis E is also self-limiting. Most individuals will stop experiencing symptoms after four weeks. (19)
Treatment for hepatitis aims to control symptoms of inflammation. In some cases, the cause of the disorder can be eradicated or cured completely:
Excessive alcohol consumption can cause or worsen hepatitis. If you stop drinking, your liver will have a better chance at recovering from the damage done. (20)
These drugs are prescribed for chronic hepatitis B, C and D. They encourage your immune system to control the virus by attacking it.
You may experience side effects such as muscle pain and fever, yet they do tend to improve over time. (21, 22, 23)
This type of medication is prescribed if your liver is not functioning well. They are usually prescribed if other treatments are not working for you.
Antiviral medication can be used to treat hepatitis B and C. Ribavirin stops the hepatitis C virus from reproducing.
Ribavirin can also be used in individuals with hepatitis E who already have pre-existing liver conditions. (24, 25)
Hepatitis C Medication
A range of medication has been recently developed specifically to treat hepatitis C. These include drugs such as sofosbuvir, daclatasvir, and ledipasvir.
These drugs are usually given in tablet form. Different combinations of these tablets can be prescribed depending on your individual case.
These advances in hepatitis C treatment have enabled the virus to be completely cured in a majority of cases. (26)
Prednisolone is a type of corticosteroid. It is prescribed for individuals with autoimmune hepatitis.
This drug reduces the activity of your immune system. In turn, this lowers inflammation in the liver.
Similarly to prednisolone, azathioprine is a type of immune system suppressant. It lowers inflammation and any resultant symptoms from autoimmune hepatitis. (27)
Certain forms of hepatitis can lead to permanent liver damage. If your liver fails, your doctor may recommend a liver transplant.
A liver transplant is a major surgery. It involves replacing your damaged liver with a healthy one, usually from a deceased donor. (28)
Autoimmune hepatitis and untreated hepatitis B and C can lead to liver failure. (29, 30, 31)
What is hepatitis? Hepatitis is defined as liver irritation or inflammation.
What are the signs of hepatitis? Signs of hepatitis can include fatigue, abdominal pain, and dark urine. You can also experience itching and jaundice.
How do you develop hepatitis? Hepatitis can develop as a result of toxins, medication, or other diseases. It is usually the result of a viral infection.
How are you diagnosed for hepatitis? Hepatitis is diagnosed through a blood test.
What is the best treatment for hepatitis? Treatment for hepatitis depends on the cause and severity of your condition. Chronic viral hepatitis can be treated with pegylated interferons, antiviral medication or virus-specific medications (hepatitis C). In severe cases, a liver transplant may be recommended.
What are the long term complications of hepatitis? Individuals with non-viral and chronic viral hepatitis (specifically B and C) have a greater risk of liver cancer. (32)
Is hepatitis considered a disability? If your hepatitis symptoms are debilitating and expected to last for more than one year, you may qualify for disability. You might also be eligible if your hepatitis has resulted in chronic liver damage. (33)
there any cure for hepatitis? Some forms of hepatitis can be cured or are self-limiting, meaning the illness will run its course. Other types, like the hepatitis B virus, are incurable. (34)
Is hepatitis life threatening? Autoimmune hepatitis can result in liver failure. Untreated hepatitis B and C can also cause severe liver damage that may require a liver transplant. (35, 36, 37)
Hepatitis A and B can be prevented by being vaccinated against them. You can also reduce your risk of hepatitis by avoiding unsafe practices.
Do not share items like razors or toothbrushes with others. Maintain good hygiene, like washing your hands before touching food.
Never share a used needle with another individual. This applies to needles for injecting narcotics or in a medical environment.
Check the safety of the water in countries you travel to with your doctor or the “center for disease control and prevention.” Unfiltered water in some areas is unsafe, and should not be consumed.
If you show symptoms of hepatitis, consult your doctor. Evaluation and treatment can avoid serious damage to your liver long term. (38)