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Hepatitis: Treatment, symptoms, advice and help

About hepatitis

Hepatitis is an inflammatory disorder of the liver manifested by jaundice and abnormal liver function tests. Viral infections are the commonest cause of hepatitis. It is important to treat this condition so as to prevent acute as well as long-term complications.

Hepatitis: Incidence, age and sex

Hepatitis is a common occurrence which may afflict an individual of any age group. Certain types of hepatitis like hepatitis A and E are more commonly seen in children whereas others like hepatitis A, B, C and alcoholic hepatitis are seen mainly in adults.

Signs and symptoms of hepatitis: Diagnosis

Infective hepatitis usually presents as a prodromal illness of malaise, fatigue and low grade temperature followed by the appearance of jaundice which is manifested by yellowing of eyes and passage of highly coloured urine. Usually, there is profound loss of appetite along with nausea, vomiting and upper abdominal pain. There may also be itching all over the body as a result of stagnation of the bile in the small ducts of the liver (canaliculi). On examination, apart from jaundice, there is usually enlargement of the liver (hepatomegaly). Signs of dehydration may be present. On lab evaluation, there is rise in bilirubin and liver enzymes. Infective hepatitis due to viral infections is diagnosed by specific blood tests for each virus (hepatitis A, B, C, D, and E).

Causes and prevention of hepatitis

Viral infections are the commonest cause of hepatitis. Five viruses namely hepatitis A, B C, D, E are mainly implicated in the causation. Out of these, hepatitis A and E are transmitted by contaminated water or food. On the other hand, hepatitis B and C are transmitted through infected blood, infected needles and syringes and sexual intercourse. Preventive measures include attention to personal hygiene, use of sterile syringes and needles, use of properly tested blood products, safe sexual practices (use of condoms) and timely vaccination. Vaccines are available for hepatitis A and B.

Alcohol intake is also a very important preventable cause of hepatitis. Certain drugs like antibiotics, anaesthetic agents and paracetamol in toxic doses can cause hepatitis.

Hepatitis: Complications

Hepatitis may cause acute complications like dehydration, malnutrition and general weakness. A very serious and potentially fatal complication is fulminant hepatic failure which can occur in acute hepatitis. Acute hepatitis can progress to chronic hepatitis and cirrhosis of the liver. There may be increased pressure in portal veins leading to vomiting of large amounts of blood. Large amount of fluid can accumulate in abdomen. In advanced liver failure, the patient can have neurological and behavioural problems and may be quite incapacitated (hepatic coma). Hepatitis B, C and alcoholic hepatitis can lead to development of cancer of the liver after two or three decades.

Hepatitis: Treatment

The treatment of acute hepatitis involves adequate fluid intake, ensuring good hydration, administration of drugs to control vomiting, maintaining proper nutrition and avoidance of alcohol or any drug known to damage the liver. The complications of liver failure should be managed appropriately.