What is hepatitis?
Hepatitis is inflammation of the liver. It can often be caused by a viral infection of the liver. Depending on the type of virus and the individual, hepatitis symptoms and potential complications can range from mild to serious, and it can be acute or chronic.
There are numerous causes of hepatitis other than viruses, including medications, alcohol, fat deposition in the liver, autoimmune diseases, and genetic diseases such as hemochromatosis.
What are the symptoms of hepatitis?
In acute or chronic hepatitis, you may have no symptoms, or you may experience the following symptoms:
- Abdominal pain
- Chalky, clay-colored stool
- Dark urine
- Jaundice (yellowing of the skin or eyes)
- Mild fever
- Muscle or joint aches
- Loss of appetite
People can live for years with a hepatitis virus and be unaware until liver damage, including cirrhosis (scarring), has already occurred. Chronic hepatitis can put you at risk for liver cancer, internal hemorrhage, and cognitive impairment. Everyone over age 18 should be screened for hepatitis C once in their lifetime.
How do we treat viral hepatitis?
During the past decade, viral hepatitis treatment has advanced rapidly, and now most cases of viral hepatitis resolve with medication. In most instances, treatment eliminates the dreaded risks of long-term infection.
Viral hepatitis treatment depends on the type of hepatitis you have.
Hepatitis A infections typically pass within a few months with minimal chance of long-standing liver damage. Your doctor will focus on managing symptoms such as nausea and fever and helping ensure you get enough rest.
Public health officials recommend the hepatitis A vaccine for all young children and for all adults at increased risk for Hepatitis A (such as health care workers).
Acute hepatitis B may resolve with time, rest, staying hydrated, and proper nutrition. If you develop chronic hepatitis B, your doctor may treat it with antiviral medication, while closely monitoring your liver for signs of damage or disease.
Public health officials recommend universal vaccination of infants with the safe and effective hepatitis B vaccine.
Chronic hepatitis C is curable with antiviral medication, which can clear the virus in as little as eight to 12 weeks. There is no vaccine for Hepatitis C.
There are two additional hepatitis viruses, D and E. However, hepatitis D only develops in people who already have hepatitis B, and hepatitis E is extremely rare in the United States.
Consultation at NYGA regarding liver disease
At NYGA, we frequently evaluate patients for liver-related concerns and questions. Any common gastroenterology consultation regards abnormal liver blood tests. On occasion, these issues turn out to be inconsequential, but sometimes they are important, such as a liver infection with one of the common liver viruses. We will help you understand the importance of your signs and symptoms of liver illness and direct you to a resolution.