What is hepatitis?
Viral hepatitis is liver inflammation and damage caused by a virus that can spread through contaminated food and water or contact with an infected person via blood, semen or body fluid exposure. Viral hepatitis is the most common type of hepatitis. All types of viral hepatitis cause liver inflammation and damage.
Hepatitis can be an acute or a chronic infection. All forms can lead to acute symptomatic infection while hepatitis B and C can lead to chronic infection associated with significant illness and end stage disease. We have effective vaccines for hepatitis A and B which provide long lasting immunity.
- Hepatitis A is a contagious liver infection caused by the hepatitis A virus (HAV). It is usually spread by eating food or drinking water contaminated with HAV, or through contact with an infected person. Symptoms of hepatitis A usually include mild fever, nausea and vomiting, loss of appetite, fatigue, jaundice (yellowing of the skin or eyes), dark-colored urine, abdominal pain, and joint pain. In 1995, hepatitis A was the most common type, but a vaccine became available, and cases have fallen significantly.
- Hepatitis B is a viral infection that affects the liver. It can spread through contact with an infected person’s blood, semen, or other body fluids. Symptoms include fever, fatigue, loss of appetite, abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting, dark-colored urine, and jaundice. Almost 900,000 Americans have chronic hepatitis B. There is a vaccine given to babies that has reduced infections by 88%. It has risen in the US due to injection drug use. People with HIV or who have a history of blood transfusions, contaminated piercing instruments and IV drug use are more likely to have Hepatitis B. Many people with this type don’t have symptoms. Acute infection can cause liver failure. Liver transplantation is the ultimate therapy. Chronic infection can cause liver cirrhosis and liver cancer. People who have been infected with hepatitis B can experience reactivated hepatitis B later in life and suffer liver damage and failure.
- Hepatitis C is an infectious disease caused by the hepatitis C virus. It can spread through contact with an infected person’s blood. Symptoms of hepatitis C include fatigue, nausea, loss of appetite, jaundice, and abdominal pain. You can catch hepatitis C from being tattooed or pierced with unsterile tools.
- Hepatitis D is a viral infection that can only infect you if you also have Hepatitis B.
- Hepatitis E is a short-term infection that is spread in the United States by undercooked pork or wild game. Recent research suggests about 20% of the population has Hepatitis E.
Your Clinician at Gastroenterology Associates of Brooklyn will review your medical and family history, perform a physical exam and order blood tests which can detect antibodies to hepatitis. Immunity can occur from a past infection or a vaccine. If you have chronic hepatitis your doctor will recommend regular blood tests to check for liver damage. They may also order a special ultrasound of the liver, or a Fibroscan, a special ultrasound of the liver that measure scarring and the amount of fat in the liver. If these tests suggest liver damage, your doctor will prescribe antiviral medications to reduce the risk of liver damage and complications.
Hepatitis treatment depends on which type of hepatitis you have. Generally, the goals of treatment are to reduce inflammation, restore liver function, and prevent further damage.
Treatment for acute hepatitis usually focuses on rest, hydration, and nutrition. In some cases, medication may be prescribed to reduce symptoms or help the body clear the virus.
For chronic hepatitis, medications may be prescribed to reduce inflammation and stop or slow further damage to the liver. In some cases, antiviral medications may be used to help clear the virus from your system. In severe cases of chronic hepatitis, a liver transplant may be necessary.
Your GI specialist at Gastroenterology of Brooklyn GI will work with you to create a personalized treatment plan based on your specific case. It is important to follow your doctor’s instructions and attend all scheduled appointments in order to reduce the risk of further damage to your liver.
It is also important to practice a healthy lifestyle. This includes avoiding alcohol and other drugs, eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, and getting enough sleep. Taking steps to reduce stress can also help you manage your chronic hepatitis or prevent flare-ups.
Contact Gastroenterology Associates of Brooklyn to schedule an appointment to receive the correct diagnosis and all your treatment options. Most people with hepatitis can recover completely if treated promptly and appropriately.