Hepatitis: What is it, what are its symptoms and treatment?

The hepatitis consists of a condition that inflames the liver. It can diminish spontaneously or complicate to fibrosis, cirrhosis or liver cancer. Hepatitis viruses are the main causes that develop the disease. Exist, variants of this infection, being A, B and C the most frequent, with different symptoms and treatments that are also distinguished.

When the disease has appeared recently, it is acute hepatitis, while processes that last more than 6 months are called chronic.

Viral hepatitis are contagious or communicable conditions, therefore they can be prevented.

Viruses A and E are usually contracted through contaminated food and water. So proper food hygiene and good water treatment can help prevent infection. Transmission of the B, C and delta viruses are produced by contact with infected body fluids and sexual intercourse. Common forms of infection of the latter are transfusion of contaminated blood or blood products. And in the case of B it is also caused by transmission from the mother to the baby during childbirth.

While autoimmune hepatitis, of unknown causes, is not yet known how it can be prevented.

Types of hepatitis

Experts have broadly identified five hepatitis viruses by the letters: A, B, C, D and E. All produce liver conditions, but each is distinguished by important characteristics.

Hepatitis A (HAV)

This virus is present in the feces of infected people and usually it is transmitted through the consumption of contaminated water and food. It can also be transmitted by certain sexual practices. Most cases have a mild infection, so many people make a full recovery and gain immunity from future infections with this virus.

But, HAV infections can also be serious and life-threatening. The vast majority of people living in areas of the developing world with poor sanitation have been infected with this virus.

Hepatitis B (HBV)

It contracts by direct exposure to blood, semen, and other infectious body fluids or can be transmitted from mother to infant at delivery. It can also be spread from injections with contaminated medical instruments during surgeries or other procedures.

The HBV virus poses a risk to healthcare workers when they accidentally stick themselves with contaminated needles while caring for infected patients.

Hepatitis C (HCV)

This virus is transmitted in most cases from exposure to contaminated blood, which can occur through blood transfusions. Instrument infections during medical interventions are often common in HCV communicable factors. Sexual transmission is also possible, but it is much less common.

Hepatitis D (HDV)

Infections with this virus only occur in the people infected with HBV. When both viruses infect a person simultaneously, it can lead to a more serious infection and a worse outcome.

Hepatitis E (HEV)

Like HAV, it is contracted by consumption of water and food contaminated by the virus. HEV is a common cause of hepatitis outbreaks in developing areas. However, it has been recognized that it is also a major cause of disease in developed countries.

Symptoms of hepatitis

When the disease caused by the hepatitis virus is acute, it may not show any symptoms and go unnoticed by the patient. In other cases it can cause nonspecific symptoms, such as general malaise, tiredness and nausea. You can also develop jaundice, that is, yellow pigmentation on the skin and mucous membranes of the patient, accompanied by dark-colored urine and white or yellowish stools.

Chronic hepatitis is also characterized by manifesting very few symptoms. On many occasions its diagnosis derives casually when performing tests for other reasons if apparent. When symptoms appear, the most common are fatigue, digestion disorders, joint pain, intense itching, and mild, nonspecific discomfort on the right side of the abdomen.

How is it diagnosed?

The data that initially suggests the diagnosis of the disease is the increase in transaminase levels in the blood. These are enzymes that are released into the blood by cell death, a product of inflammation of the liver. This elevation can be very significant in acute hepatitis and mild or moderate in chronic hepatitis.

Based on these analyzes, the diagnosis can be completed with other determinations that, in addition, may help to find the origin of the infection. It even makes it possible to determine its severity and prognosis.

However, for a definitive diagnosis, a liver biopsy is required in many cases.

Vaccines and treatments

There are vaccines for all viral types of hepatitis, but in the case of HEV it has a lesser spread.

Most people develop protective levels of antibodies against infection in the first month, so a single injection of vaccine is usually sufficient. These doses are composed of the material necessary to attack the virus, they offer 95-100% protection against hepatitis. They also prevent the progression to chronic diseases and liver cancer.

In most countries it is recommended to pay special attention to the hepatitis B vaccine, preferably to be applied within 24 hours after the birth of a baby.

Treatment of acute hepatitis

  • Acute HBV hepatitis is not treated, its evolution is followed to avoid complications and prevent its possible chronification.
  • HCV disease is treated with medications given a high rate in the development of chronic cases.

Due to the potential evolution of chronic hepatitis to cirrhosis, they are usually treated under the supervision of specialists.

Finally, cases of autoimmune hepatitis are treated with corticosteroids. On many occasions with other associated immunosuppressive drugs such as cyclosporine, tacrolimus, azathioprine or mycophenolate. It should also be followed under medical supervision.