Hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver. The condition can be self-limiting or can progress to fibrosis (scarring), cirrhosis or liver cancer. Hepatitis viruses are the most common cause of hepatitis in the world but other infections, toxic substances (e.g. alcohol, certain drugs), and autoimmune diseases can also cause hepatitis.
There are 5 main hepatitis viruses, referred to as types A, B, C, D and E. These 5 types are of greatest concern because of the burden of illness and death they cause and the potential for outbreaks and epidemic spread. In particular, types B and C lead to chronic disease in hundreds of millions of people and, together, are the most common cause of liver cirrhosis and cancer.
Hepatitis A and E are typically caused by ingestion of contaminated food or water. Hepatitis B, C and D usually occur as a result of parenteral contact with infected body fluids. Common modes of transmission for these viruses include receipt of contaminated blood or blood products, invasive medical procedures using contaminated equipment. For hepatitis B, transmission can occur from mother to baby at birth, from family member to child, and also by sexual contact.
Acute infection may occur with limited or no symptoms, or may include symptoms such as jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes), dark urine, extreme fatigue, nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain.
Scientists have identified 5 unique hepatitis viruses, identified by the letters A, B, C, D, and E. While all cause liver disease, they vary in important ways.
Hepatitis A virus (HAV) is present in the feces of infected persons and is most often transmitted through consumption of contaminated water or food. Certain sex practices can also spread HAV. Infections are in many cases mild, with most people making a full recovery and remaining immune from further HAV infections. However, HAV infections can also be severe and life threatening. Most people in areas of the world with poor sanitation have been infected with this virus. Safe and effective vaccines are available to prevent HAV.
Hepatitis B virus (HBV) is transmitted through exposure to infective blood, semen, and other body fluids. HBV can be transmitted from infected mothers to infants at the time of birth or from family member to infant in early childhood. Transmission may also occur through transfusions of HBV-contaminated blood and blood products, contaminated injections during medical procedures, and through injection drug use. HBV also poses a risk to healthcare workers who sustain accidental needle stick injuries while caring for infected-HBV patients. Safe and effective vaccines are available to prevent HBV.
Hepatitis C virus (HCV) is mostly transmitted through exposure to infective blood. This may happen through transfusions of HCV-contaminated blood and blood products, contaminated injections during medical procedures, and through injection drug use. Sexual transmission is also possible, but is much less common. There is no vaccine for HCV.
Hepatitis D virus (HDV) infections occur only in those who are infected with HBV. The dual infection of HDV and HBV can result in a more serious disease and worse outcome. Hepatitis B vaccines provide protection from HDV infection.
Hepatitis E virus (HEV) is mostly transmitted through consumption of contaminated water or food. HEV is a common cause of hepatitis outbreaks in developing parts of the world and is increasingly recognized as an important cause of disease in developed countries. Safe and effective vaccines to prevent HEV infection have been developed but are not widely available.
If you have forms of hepatitis that are usually chronic (hepatitis B and C), you may not have symptoms in the beginning. Symptoms may not occur until liver damage occurs.
Signs and symptoms of acute hepatitis appear quickly. They include:
Since chronic hepatitis develops slowly, these signs and symptoms may be too subtle to notice. Viruses cause most cases of hepatitis. The type of hepatitis is named for the virus that causes it; for example, hepatitis A, hepatitis B or hepatitis C. Drug or alcohol use can also cause hepatitis. In other cases, your body mistakenly attacks healthy cells in the liver. Some people who have hepatitis have no symptoms. Others may have the following symptoms:
Some forms of hepatitis are mild, and others can be serious. Some can lead to scarring, called cirrhosis, or to cancer. Sometimes hepatitis goes away by itself. If it does not, it can be treated with drugs. Sometimes hepatitis lasts a lifetime. Vaccines can help prevent some viral forms.
Diagnostic tests for hepatitis include:
Treatment options are determined by which type of hepatitis you have and whether the infection is acute or chronic.
Hepatitis A. Hepatitis A isn’t usually treated. Bed rest may be recommended if symptoms cause a great deal of discomfort. If you experience vomiting or diarrhea, you will be put on a special diet created by your doctor to prevent malnutrition or dehydration. Vaccination can also prevent hepatitis A infections by helping your body produce the antibodies that fight this type of infection. Most children receive the vaccination between ages 12 and 18 months. Vaccination is also available for adults.
Hepatitis B. Acute hepatitis B doesn’t require specific treatment. Chronic hepatitis B is treated with antiviral medications. This form of treatment can be costly because it must be followed for several months or years. Treatment for chronic hepatitis B also requires regular medical evaluations and monitoring to determine if the virus is progressing. The CDC recommends hepatitis B vaccinations for all newborns. The vaccine is also recommended for all healthcare and medical personnel.
Hepatitis C. Antiviral medications are used to treat both acute and chronic forms of hepatitis C. People who develop chronic hepatitis C are typically treated with a combination of antiviral drug therapies. They may also need further testing to determine the best form of treatment. People who develop cirrhosis (scarring of the liver) or liver disease as a result of chronic hepatitis C may be candidates for a liver transplant.
Hepatitis D. Hepatitis D is treated with a medication called alpha interferon. According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, between 60 to 97 percent of people develop hepatitis D again even after treatment.
Hepatitis E. There are currently no specific medical therapies to treat hepatitis E. Because the infection is often acute, it typically resolves on its own. People with this type of infection are often advised to get adequate rest, drink plenty of fluids, get enough nutrients, and avoid alcohol.
IMPORTANT HEALTH NOTE
We recommend that people experiencing gastrointestinal symptoms do not attempt self-treatment. With many medications being available over the counter, and numerous do-it-yourself online unqualified remedy recommendation, it is natural to consider treating yourself but we highly recommend against this.
If you are experiencing gastrointestinal symptoms you may have a more significant issue than you would expect from the sometimes muted or infrequent symptom you may be experiencing. It is important to keep in mind that is you are having gastrointestinal symptoms or concerns it is best see a doctor to have those symptoms diagnosed and any conditions treated. Also, it is worth noting, that if health conditions do exist, the earlier they are diagnosed and treated, the greater the probability will be to successfully eliminate or manage a present condition, in fact successful outcomes will increase significantly with early detection.
If you have gastrointestinal concerns or are experiencing any gastrointestinal symptoms, please contact us promptly to schedule a consultation with a physician.
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