What is hepatitis?
Hepatitis is a general term that means inflammation of the liver. “Hepa” refers to the liver and “itis” means inflammation (as in arthritis, dermatitis, and pancreatitis). Hepatitis is actually not a disease, but a symptom or a sign of an underlying disease – viral hepatitis (infectious or serum), gall stones, Cirrhosis of the liver, alcoholic hepatitis, cancer of the bile duct, tumors of the pancreas and even drug reactions.
Infective hepatitis or viral hepatitis is the commonest cause of jaundice. Contaminated water/food is a source of infection spreading the virus that is responsible for the problem. The patient suffers from fever, nausea vomiting, loss of appetite, discomfort in the upper abdomen, and yellowish discoloration of the eyes, tongue and skin. The liver is enlarged. Inadequate treatment leads to chronic liver disease.
Adequate sanitary measures for those coming in contact with the patient are necessary (e.g. washing hands after handling contaminated clothes, utensils etc.) to prevent spread of infection. The remedial measures are to improve the hygienic conditions and pure potable water to be made available, along with complete bed rest for 4-6 weeks. No alcohol, smoking, drugs or heavy diet. Consume sugarcane juice liberally. The incubation period varies from 4-6 weeks.
Inflammation of the liver – hepatitis – has several possible causes, including:
- Toxins and chemicals such as excessive amounts of alcohol;
- Autoimmune diseases that cause the immune system to attack healthy tissues in the body; and
- Microorganisms, including viruses.
HAV, HBV, and HCV infect liver cells – called hepatocytes – that provide the best conditions for these viruses to reproduce. In response to the infection, the body’s immune system targets the liver, causing inflammation (hepatitis). If the hepatitis is severe (which can happen with HAV and HBV) or goes on for a long period of time (which can happen with HBV and HCV), hardened fibers can develop in the liver, a condition called fibrosis.
Over time, more and more normal liver tissue can be replaced by hardened scar tissue, which can obstruct the normal flow of blood through the liver and seriously affect its structure and ability to function properly. This is called cirrhosis. If the liver is severely damaged, blood can back up into the spleen and the intestines, which can result in high pressure in these organs. Consequences of this condition – called portal hypertension – include bleeding (variceal bleeding) and fluid in the abdomen (ascites). Significant liver damage can also reduce the production of bile needed for proper digestion and decrease the liver’s ability to store and process nutrients needed for survival. Other effects of a damaged liver include the inability to remove toxins from the bloodstream, which can eventually lead to mental confusion and even coma (encephalopathy).
There are five viruses known to affect the liver and cause hepatitis: HAV, HBV, HCV, the delta hepatitis virus (HDV, which only causes problems for people infected with HBV), and hepatitis E virus (HEV). There is no hepatitis F virus.
The hepatitis G virus (HGV) was originally thought to cause liver damage, but has since been found to be an apparently harmless virus and has been renamed GB virus-C (GBV-C).