Hepatitis is an inflammatory condition of the liver. It is most commonly caused by a virus but other causes include drugs, toxins produced by bacteria, alcohol and autoimmune disease. Autoimmune hepatitis is a condition wherein your body develops antibodies against your liver and begins to attack liver cells.
The liver is located in the abdomen and plays a critical role in metabolism. The liver is involved in the breakdown of carbohydrates, proteins and fat. It is a store house for excess sugar which it stores as glycogen ( this is released when the body needs sugar). The liver synthesizes blood proteins and clotting factors. These are just a few of the functions of the liver as there are many more critical functions the liver performs. Thus the liver is a very important organ in the body.
Causes of Hepatitis:
As mentioned earlier, the commonest cause is a viral infection. There are 5 possible strains of the hepatitis virus- Hepatitis A, B, C, D and E viruses. Hepatitis A is an acute short term disease while Hepatitis B, C and D are causes of chronic ie longer lasting infections . Hepatitis E is usually acute but can be particularly serious in pregnant women.
Other causes of Hepatitis eg prolonged excessive use of alcohol, drugs and bacteria directly injure your liver cells and cause damage.
Hepatitis A and E are transmitted via the faeco-oral route (hand to mouth), while B, C, D are via body fluids.
Symptoms of Hepatitis:
Symptoms of acute hepatitis include
- abdominal pain
- unexplained weight loss
- dark urine and pale stools
- yellow eyes and skin
Chronic hepatitis develops more slowly and these symptoms may not be noticed until there is substantial damage to the liver.
Diagnosis and Treatment:
If you suspect you may have hepatitis, it is advised that you visit your doctor for a proper physical examination and testing. Tests to be done include liver function tests, abdominal ultrasound and blood tests eg to find out if you have a viral infection.
Treatment will depend on the cause of the hepatitis as well as how much damage has been done to your liver.
Prevention of Hepatitis:
1. Vaccination- there are vaccines to prevent hepatitis A and B.
2. Dietary hygeine- Hepatitis A and E can be prevented by good hygiene. Be careful what you eat. Avoid undercooked fish and meat, ensure you wash fruits and vegetables properly, drink clean water.
3. Hepatitis B, C and D Avoid unhealthy practices such as sharing drug needles, razors, toothbrushes. Also ensure you clean surfaces where blood spilled with a diluted solution containing bleach. Practicing safe sex can also reduce your risk of contacting these viruses.
Complications of Hepatitis:
Chronic hepatitis can lead to destruction of the liver cells ( cirrhosis) and liver cancer.
Hepatitis is preventable and presentation to a hospital for proper assessment is necessary to prevent long term damage to the liver.