Liver is one of the vital organs of your body sitting right under your rib cage at the right-hand side of the abdomen. It performs some of the most important physiological functions of the body starting from flushing out toxins and processing nutrients to filtering out blood and fighting infection. Any major damage to this organ can be life threatening. Your liver can be affected by many factors like genetic issues, immunological disorders, cancer, lifestyle disorders like poor eating habits and alcohol habits and viral infections. Hepatitis is the one of the most common conditions that damage the liver. Simply put, it is a condition that leads to inflammation in the liver.
What is Hepatitis?
Hepatitis is an inflammatory condition of the liver caused mostly by viral infections. In fact, about five different viruses can cause this condition. However, it can be non-infectious too. Factors like autoimmune disorder and certain medications, drugs and toxins can lead to hepatitis. In case of autoimmune hepatitis, your body produces antibodies against your own liver tissue. Though the cause and transmission of different types of hepatitis may be different, the symptoms are mostly similar. It is characterised by fatigue, loss of appetite, yellow skin, flu-like symptoms, etc. While some form of hepatitis can resolve with proper treatment, others, if left untreated, may lead to cirrhosis of liver and even cancer. The line of treatment depends on the type and severity of the condition. Some forms of this liver condition can be prevented through vaccines and precautions.
Types of Hepatitis
As already mentioned, hepatitis can be infectious and non-infectious. Here is a low-down on both.
Hepatitis can be triggered by infections caused by five different viruses: Hepatitis A, B, C, D, E.
Hepatitis A: You get this condition when your liver is infected by hepatitis A virus (HAV). The virus gets transmitted if you happen to eat food or water contaminated by faeces of a person infected with it.
Hepatitis B: This is a life-threatening infection caused by hepatitis B virus (HBV). It spreads through body fluids contaminated by the virus. Fluids include blood, vaginal secretions, or semen. Sharing needles and razors with an infected person or having sex with a person affected by this virus can increase your risk of catching hepatitis B.
Hepatitis C: Triggered by hepatitis C virus (HCV), this condition is transmitted the same way as Hepatitis B.
Hepatitis D: This is a bloodborne condition caused by hepatitis D virus (HDV). Also known as delta hepatitis, it is a serious but rare but serious liver disease that hits you only in association with hepatitis B infection. This is because hepatitis D virus needs HBV to multiply.
Hepatitis E: Triggered by hepatitis E virus (HEV), it is a waterborne disease common in areas with poor sanitation.
Apart from viral infections there could be other triggers behind hepatitis. Here, we guide you on them.
Autoimmune system response: You may get hepatitis if your immune system starts identifying your liver as a harmful object and invades it. More common in women than men, this form of hepatitis can manifest through mild or severe symptoms.
Alcohol and other toxins: When inflammation to your liver is caused by overindulgence of alcohol, it is known as alcoholic hepatitis. As this intoxicant directly affects your liver cells, prolonged alcohol abuse may lead to liver failure or cirrhosis. It can also result in thickening and scarring of the liver tissue. Overdose of some drugs and medicines and exposure to poisons may also lead to hepatitis.
Chronic liver inflammation is caused by HBV, HBC autoimmune response, excessive alcohol consumption and other factors. In such cases, the symptoms may be subtle. However, acute, infectious hepatitis may manifest itself quickly. Some of the symptoms include:
What Causes Hepatitis?
As already mentioned, hepatitis can be caused by viruses and factors like autoimmune response, overdose of certain medicines, alcohol abuse and exposure to certain drugs and poisons. In case of infectious, viral hepatitis, the route of transmission could be contaminated food and water, infected blood and body fluids like semen.
Diagnosis of Hepatitis
Based on your symptoms, your doctor will conduct a physical examination to look for enlargement of the liver, yellowing of the skin and presence of fluid in the abdomen. During the physical examination, your doctor may press your abdomen gently to see if there is pain or any sort of tenderness. Here are the tests that you may expect.
Blood tests: Various blood tests are performed to look for the presence of viruses that cause hepatitis and antibodies found commonly in case of autoimmune hepatitis. Your doctor may also suggest a bloodwork for liver function test. It will check the levels of certain liver enzymes in your bloodstream. High volumes indicate that there is an impairment in your liver function or it is damaged.
Ultrasound: With the help of this imaging test, your doctor takes a close look at your liver and other organs located close by. An ultrasound reveals the presence of fluid in your abdomen, damage or enlargement in liver, abnormality in your gallbladder, and the culprit behind impaired liver function.
Liver biopsy: This invasive procedure helps your doctor see if there is any infection, inflammation or abnormality in your liver. In live biopsy, your doctor will collect a liver tissue sample with the help of a needle or through surgery.
Treatment of Hepatitis
The underlying cause behind hepatitis and the severity of condition determines the line of treatment. Acute liver inflammation caused by hepatitis A and E viruses mostly resolve on their own. They are short-term illnesses that require complete bed rest, plenty of fluids, closely-monitored diet, and abstinence from alcohol. While acute hepatitis B doesn’t need treatment, chronic form of this liver inflammation necessitates antiviral medications on a long-term basis. People with hepatitis C are also treated with antiviral drug therapies. However, if this condition leads to scarring of the liver, a transplant may be required. Currently, there is no medicine for hepatitis D. For autoimmune hepatitis, doctors prescribe corticosteroids and immunosuppressants.
Following a healthy diet is the cornerstone of managing hepatitis. Though the dietary recommendations may vary depending on the cause of liver inflammation, some golden rules help in the healing process. Follow them:
- Load up on fruits and vegetables like cauliflower, broccoli, beans, apples, avocados and the likes
- Include traditional Indian spices like garlic and onion in your meals
- Drink plenty of fluids including fresh fruit juices
- Cut back on alcohol, wheat-based foods, junk foods, white flour, hydrogenated oils, dairy products, processed foods and artificial sweeteners
- Chew your food well before gulping it down to ease the process of digestion
- East 4 small meals frequently instead of having a large one.
Prevention of Hepatitis
Both hepatitis A and B can be prevented by vaccines. Immunisation for HBV can also protect you against hepatitis D because the later develops in conjunction with hepatitis B. However, there are no vaccines for hepatitis C and E. For hepatitis A, there’s a series of two vaccines available for children between 12 and 18 months and adults as well. For hepatitis B, there’s a set of three vaccines recommended for newborns. The dosage is completed within the first 18 months of life.
Apart from vaccines, there are other ways to keep hepatitis at bay. Here are some of them:
- Do not share your razors, toothbrushes and needles with others
- Be careful about equipment used while going for a tattoo.
- Ensure body piercings are done with equipment that is clean.
- Practise safe sex.
- Wash your hands well after using the restroom and before eating meals.
- Avoiding street food
- Wash raw produce well before having them. Make sure the water you use for washing is clean.