Hepatitis literally means swelling, or inflammation, of the liver. It is usually thought of as exclusively a viral disease, such as Hepatitis A, B, or C. However, inflammation of the liver can also be caused by other factors.
The liver is largely responsible for filtering toxins and neutralizing harmful chemicals in the blood stream. If it has to work harder than normal, such as with alcoholism, it can become inflamed and will eventually suffer further damage, such as cirrhosis or liver cancer.
Causes of Hepatitis
- Autoimmune hepatitis occurs when immune cells attack the liver
- Viral infection, such as that caused by Hepatitis A, B, or C
- Bacterial Infections
- Liver damage caused by alcohol, ingested poisons, or poisonous mushrooms
- Medications. An overdose, or chronic consumption, of acetaminophen (the active ingredient in Tylenol) is a common factor.
Inherited diseases, such as Cystic Fibrosis, Wilson's Disease, and hemochromatosis (excess iron deposits in the liver) can also be responsible for hepatitis.
What Are the Symptoms of Hepatitis?
- A painful or distended abdomen
- Dark colored urine and/or clay colored stool
- Increase of breast size in males
- Overall skin irritation/itching
- Fever, although it is usually low-grade
- Unusual and unexplained weight loss
Hepatitis B and C can be asymptomatic (meaning there are no tangible symptoms) for quite a while. Anyone whose lifestyle puts them at risk for either of those diseases should be tested regularly.
Additional Complications Caused By Hepatitis
Once the liver becomes inflamed, it can no longer function properly, which puts patients at risk for other conditions. These conditions include:
- Liver failure
- Liver cancer
- Cirrhosis (scarring of the liver)
- Bleeding in the esophagus
- Any accumulated fluid in the abdomen can become infected
How Is It Diagnosed?
The doctor will search for clear indicators such as a tender or enlarged liver, yellowing of the skin, which indicates jaundice, or excess fluid in the abdomen. One or more of these symptoms will prompt further diagnostic procedures such as:
- An ultrasound of the abdomen
- Blood tests looking for autoimmune markers
- Series of Viral Hepatitis tests
- Tests to evaluate liver function
- A biopsy of the liver to check for damage
- Parasite screening
What Is the Treatment For Hepatitis?
Treatments are varied because each type of hepatitis has its own treatment regimen. Acute hepatitis (which comes on suddenly) can usually be treated with simple dietary and/or lifestyle changes. Alcohol or drug related hepatitis will require rehabilitation and the patient will have to avoid consuming alcohol and/or drugs completely to prevent further damage to the liver.
Patients' doctors will discuss what treatments are available to them depending on the causal factors. If weight loss or malnutrition are present, the patient will be prescribed a diet to promote weight gain and healthy nourishment.
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