What is hepatitis?
Hepatitis is a fairly broad term which can be generalised as inflammation of liver. As per an estimate, nearly 4 crore people in India are suffering from hepatitis but almost 95% of them are not aware of their disease because most of the times the symptoms of hepatitis can be too subtle to notice. The most common symptoms of hepatitis are-
- Yellow tint in eyes, nails and skin
- Stomach pain
- Unexplained weight loss and loss of appetite
- Vomiting, Loose Motion
- Mild fever
- Dark coloured urine
- Pale coloured stool
- Itching over body parts
What causes hepatitis?
Hepatitis can be divided in two classes- Non-viral hepatitis and viral hepatitis. Non-viral hepatitis is mostly a result of unhealthy lifestyle like alcohol abuse and obesity. Sometimes it can also be caused due to exposure to toxins or body’s own immune system attacking liver cells.
Viral hepatitis – the more common one – is caused due to infection of certain viruses called as hepatitis virus. Viral hepatitis can be divided into 5 subgroups based on the type of virus involved-
Hepatitis A- This is caused due to Hepatitis A Virus (HAV) which is mostly transmitted through infected food or water. It is a mild form of hepatitis in most cases which does not lead to a long-term infection and usually with the right treatment, patient makes full recovery within 2 to 3 months but sometimes it can be fatal, especially in adults.
Hepatitis B- This is caused due to Hepatitis B Virus (HBV) which is transmitted through infected body fluids like blood and sexual transmission or from pregnant mother to child. It is a very serious form of hepatitis which may turn into a life-long chronic infection, liver cirrhosis or liver cancer.
Hepatitis C- This type of hepatitis is caused due to infection of Hepatitis C Virus (HCV) and just like hepatitis B, it also spreads through body fluids and sexual contact and can cause life-long illness. Most people infected with this virus may not show any of the symptoms for a long time. It can also lead to liver cirrhosis and liver cirrhosis.
Hepatitis D- Also called as ‘Delta Hepatitis’, it is caused by Hepatitis D Virus (HDV) which is a rare form of hepatitis. Since hepatitis D virus cannot multiply without the presence of hepatitis B virus, it can affect only those patients who are already infected with HBV.
Hepatitis E- It is a waterborne disease caused by Hepatitis E Virus (HEV) and like HAV, spreads through infected food and water. It is mainly found in areas with poor sanitation and lack of basis hygiene practices. It can sometimes be fatal in adults especially pregnant women.
What are the complications of hepatitis?
Our liver is one of the largest and busiest parts of our body which is involved in several critical metabolic processes of our body. This includes-
- Production of bile for digestion,
- Converting highly toxic chemical wastes into less toxic chemicals so that they can be safely filtered by kidneys
- Storage of glycogen (a form of sugar), minerals and vitamins
- Synthesis of chemicals essential for making blood clot
All these processes cannot be completed without liver and when it gets inflamed due to hepatitis it shows a negative impact on whole body. If left untreated, it can result in chronic liver disease, liver cirrhosis or even liver cancer.
How hepatitis diagnosed?
A doctor may suspect hepatitis based on physical examination and the symptoms explained by the patient. To confirm whether liver is working efficiently or not, he may prescribe you a liver function test. Sometimes he may also advice you an ultrasound test to get a closer look at the liver but to determine the exact type of the hepatitis, some blood tests are needed which can be done easily. It is always important to diagnose the disease early so that the damage to liver is avoided.
How Hepatitis is treated?
Based on the type of Hepatitis, treatment approaches can be different. Treatment of non-viral hepatitis starts with lifestyle modifications and reversing the damage done by toxins. Autoimmune Hepatitis is treated by some medications which suppresses the immune system and stop it from attacking the liver. Some mild cases of viral hepatitis like Hepatitis A and E can usually be managed with supportive medications but other forms like Hepatitis B and C may require antiviral drug therapy based on severity. With advancement in therapy, most of the viral hepatitis can be managed with drugs if diagnosis is made early while damage to the liver is minimum.
How to prevent Hepatitis?
The key to prevent hepatitis infection is vaccination and hygiene. Very effective vaccinations for Hepatitis A and B are available which can protect you from infection for up to 10 years. These vaccines are a part of Government’s Immunization Schedule in India and every child must be given all the doses. Apart from these, you can prevent hepatitis infection by practicing following-
- Make sure that your food is not contaminated
- Do not use water from unreliable sources.
- Maintain hand hygiene, wash hands before eating and after using toilet
- Do not overlook the symptoms of hepatitis, consult your doctor
- Do not use unsterilized needles
- Avoid getting tattoos at unreliable places
- Avoid unprotected sexual contact
- Pregnant mothers should always be screened and babies should be vaccinated.
- Avoid taking medicines on your own or trying alternate modes of treatment