Hepatitis is inflammation of the liver, and the word ‘hepatitis’ is derived from Ancient Greek, with hepar meaning liver and itis meaning inflammation. There are different forms of hepatitis including hepatitis A, B, C, D and E. Hepatitis is usually caused by a viral infection but can be brought on by things like toxic substances such as drugs and alcohol, and the most common types are A, B and C. Types B and C are particularly dangerous, as they most commonly cause cirrhosis of the liver and certain types of cancer.
The cause of hepatitis depends on the type. Hepatitis A is caused by contaminated food or water, hepatitis B is a sexually transmitted disease, hepatitis C is spread through direct contact with the blood of a person infected with disease, hepatitis D can affect those already infected with hepatitis B, and hepatitis E is caused by contaminated drinking water. Hepatitis is either acute, which lasts under six months, or chronic, which can last much longer.
Often, hepatitis has no symptoms at all, but if they are experienced they can include flu-like symptoms, nausea, fever, dark urine, swelling, painful joints, jaundice and lethargy. Hepatitis is diagnosed by physical examination, liver biopsy, ultrasound, blood test, and testing of liver functions. Treatment will vary depending on the cause and type of hepatitis. Hepatitis A doesn’t usually require specific treatment aside from bed rest followed by vaccination, and hepatitis B usually requires no specific form of treatment but is generally treated with antiviral medication.
Hepatitis C is usually treated using a combination of antiviral medication, and if cirrhosis of the liver occurs as a result of the disease, a liver transplant may be required. Hepatitis D is treated with a specific type of medication called alpha interferon, though patients often experience hepatitis D again, even after treatment. Currently, there is no specific treatment for hepatitis E, but it generally resolves itself.