Hepatitis refers to the inflammation of the liver. The liver is a vital organ that processes nutrients, filters the blood, and fights infections. When the liver is inflamed, its function can be affected. Hepatitis can be caused by heavy alcohol use, some medications, and certain medical conditions.
However, “Hepa” is often caused by a virus. In the United States, the most common types of viral hepatitis are hepatitis A, B, and C. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention or CDC, there are about 24,900 new infections of Hepa A that occur each year in the USA alone.
The most common symptoms of types A, B, and C may include fatigue, poor appetite, dark urine, belly pain, aching joints, a mild fever, or yellow skin or eyes (jaundice). To be specific, here are the symptoms for each type:
- Clay-colored bowel movements
- Intense itching
- Sudden nausea and vomiting
- Weakness and fatigue
- Yellowing of your skin and the whites of your eyes (jaundice)
- Dark urine
- Bleeding easily
- Bruising easily
- Fluid buildup in your abdomen (ascites)
- Swelling in your legs
- Weight loss
- Confusion, drowsiness and slurred speech (hepatic encephalopathy)
- Spiderlike blood vessels on your skin (spider angiomas)
For most people with acute viral hepatitis, special treatment is not necessary. However, people with severe acute hepatitis may require hospitalization so that symptoms can be treated. If doctors suspect that fulminant hepatitis is developing, the person is hospitalized so that mental status can be monitored, liver tests can be done, and doctors can determine whether liver transplantation is needed.
After the first several days, appetite usually returns and people do not need to stay in bed. Severe restrictions of diet or activity are unnecessary, and vitamin supplements are not required. Most people can safely return to work after the jaundice clears, even if their liver test results are not quite normal.
The infected liver may not process (metabolize) drugs normally. So a doctor may need to stop a drug or reduce the dosage of a drug that could accumulate to harmful levels in the body (such as warfarin or theophylline). Thus, people with hepatitis should tell their doctor all the drugs they are taking (both prescription and nonprescription, including any medicinal herbs), so that the dosage of the drug can be adjusted if necessary.
If itching occurs, cholestyramine, taken by mouth, is often effective.
Hepa A Treatment
Hepatitis A virus (HAV) is most common in low- and middle-income countries. This is due to the lack of clean and reliable water resources and the increased risk of contaminated foods. A safe and effective vaccine is the way to prevent HAV. However, most HAV infections are mild. Majority of the people infected recovered fully and have developed immunity to further infection. But these infections can be (rarely) severe and life threatening due to the risk of liver failure.
Hepa B Treatment
On the other hand, Hepatitis B, when chronic, can often be treated successfully.
If Hepa B causes fulminant hepatitis, patients are usually treated in the ICU. Antiviral drugs may help. However, liver transplantation is the most effective treatment and is the best hope of survival especially for adults.
The most commonly used drugs to treat chronic Hepa B are:
- Entecavir (Baraclude®)
- Telbivudine (Tyzeka®)
- Tenofovir alafenamide (Vemlidy®)
- Tenofovir disoproxil fumarate (Viread®)
- Interferon alfa-2b (Intron A®)
- Peginterferon alfa-2a (Pegasys®)
Hepa C Treatment
Hepatitis C (HCV) can cause both acute and chronic infection. Some people recover on their own, while others develop a life-threatening infection (cirrhosis or cancer). There is no vaccine for hepatitis C. Although, antiviral medicines can cure more than 95% of persons with hepatitis C infection. These meds help reducing the risk of death from cirrhosis and liver cancer.
- Practice good personal hygiene such as thorough hand-washing with soap and water.
- Don’t use an infected person’s personal items.
- Take precautions when getting any tattoos or body piercings.
- Take precaution when traveling to areas of the world with poor sanitation. (Make sure to get your vaccines.)
- Make it a habit to drink lots of water.
- Get the vaccines for hepatitis A and hepatitis B.
- Use a condom during sex.
It is very important that you take these preventive measures if you participate in risky behaviors. Take preventive steps, too, if you work in places like nursing homes, dormitories, daycare centers, or restaurants where you have extended contact with other people and a risk of coming into contact with the disease.