Health Topics

Healthy Living

October 2011
Viral Hepatitis Fact File
Dr. Suneetha Narreddy
Most people do not know how important the liver is. The liver is located in the right upper quadrant of the abdomen. It is only when alarm bells start ringing that they realize they should have paid more attention to it!

One such alarm bell is contracting Viral Hepatitis. Hepatitis is inflammation of the liver, and can be caused by several diseases. The common causes of hepatitis are drugs, alcohol and infections including viruses. Viral hepatitis is the leading cause of liver cancer and liver transplantation worldwide.

Viral hepatitis can greatly diminish the liver's ability to help the body to fight infection, stall bleeding, flush out toxins from blood, build energy reserves, produce blood, and digest food.

Types of Viral Hepatitis
  • Hepatitis A
  • Hepatitis B
  • Hepatitis C
  • Hepatitis D
  • Hepatitis E
Other viruses that cause hepatitis
  • Herpes simplex
  • Cytomegalovirus
  • Epstein-Barr virus
Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C etc. are diseases caused by different viruses. Each of them can cause similar symptoms, but they have different modes of transmission and can affect the liver differently.

Hepatitis A is usually a self-limiting disease. Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C begin as acute infection, but in some people, the virus remains in the body, resulting in long standing disease and long-term liver problems. Hepatitis D relies on Hepatitis B virus to affect the body. Hepatitis E can cause a severe disease in pregnancy.

What causes Viral Hepatitis?
Hepatitis A and E are predominantly transmitted through the faeco-oral route.
  • Eating food made by someone with the virus who missed washing hands before touching the food after using the bathroom
  • Touching articles used by infected household members
  • Eating raw shellfish that came from sewage-contaminated water
Hepatitis B, C and D are transmitted through body fluids.
  • Using infected needles during drug abuse
  • Getting transfused with infected blood
  • Having sexual contact with infected partners
  • Inheriting it from an infected mother during childbirth
Symptoms of Viral Hepatitis
Symptoms differ depending on variables such as the type of hepatitis infection, age, medical history, the presence of complications and general health.

However, common symptoms include
  • Fever and flu-like signs
  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • Loss ofappetite
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhoea
  • Muscle aches
  • Stomach pain
  • Dark-coloured urine
  • Pale bowel waste
  • Yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes
At times, complications associated with chronic hepatitis such as cirrhosis of the liver, and increased risks of liver cancer and liver failure can even be life-threatening.

Missing the warning signs
Sometimes, symptoms can be vague. In fact, there may be no discernible symptoms at timesin some people suffering from certain forms of the disease.

As a result, diagnosis of viral hepatitis may get missed or delayed.

Diagnosing the disease
The investigative process involves
  • The doctor conducting a complete evaluation of medical history and physical examination
  • The doctor asking you questions on your exposure to risk factors
  • You undergoing diagnostic blood tests; liver function tests (to gauge the severity of and damage caused by the disease)
  • You going through liver imaging tests
Other diagnostic tests that your doctor may ask you to take are an ultrasound, a CT, and/or a nuclear liver scan.

There are vaccines to prevent Hepatitis A and B. If a person has had one type of viral hepatitis in the past, it is still possible to get the other types.

Treating Viral Hepatitis
Treatment is based on the type and stage of infection. Self-limiting diseases may not need any treatment. Most cases of Viral Hepatitis can be treated through:
  • Administration of proper medication – which includes injection of substances called Interferons to boost the immune system. Other medication involves administration of antiviral drugs such as Ribavirin, Lamivudine, Entecavir and so on.
  • Surgery involving liver transplant.
  • Administration of nutrition and dietary supplements.
  • Adequate rest.
  • The information on this site does not constitute medical advice and is not intended to be a substitute for medical care provided by a physician.
  • See additional information.