Hepatitis

Hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver. A viral infection (hepatitis viruses) is usually responsible for the inflammation. Depending on the type of virus, the hepatitis virus is transmitted via faecal matter, blood and other bodily fluids. Infection with the hepatitis viruses B, C and D can cause chronic hepatitis. Alcohol abuse, metabolic disorders and side effects from different medication are the most common causes of non-viral liver inflammations. The main symptom of liver inflammation is jaundice.

There are five known hepatitis viruses – A, B, C, D and E, which can all cause liver inflammation. Accordingly, liver inflammation is designated as hepatitis A, B, C, D or E. Infection with hepatitis A and E occurs primarily through contaminated water or food. Therefore, these forms of hepatitis are sometimes also referred to as travel hepatitis. On the other hand, hepatitis B, C and D are transmitted via the blood or other bodily fluids. Consequently, contact with blood, unprotected sexual intercourse or intravenous drug use are among the most common ways that people are infected with hepatitis B, C and D.

Chronic alcohol consumption is the primary cause of non-viral liver inflammation. Alcohol damages the liver cells and leads to chronic liver inflammation over time.

Depending on the cause, hepatitis proceeds differently. Hepatitis A and E usually heal without the patient developing chronic inflammation. On the other hand, hepatitis B, C and D can cause chronic liver infection. [Liver cirrhosis] can develop from alcohol abuse, which can, at worst, lead to liver failure.  Chronic liver inflammation also increases the risk of liver cancer.

The main symptom of hepatitis is jaundice. Inflammation of the liver cells upsets the metabolism of the liver, resulting in a build-up of bilirubin in the skin. Jaundice is particularly evident in the eyes. It should be quickly clarified by a doctor to determine what caused it. Loss of appetite, nausea, discolouration of the urine, fever and muscle pain are further symptoms of hepatitis.

Liver inflammation is diagnosed on the basis of the patient’s medical history, the symptoms and with the help of different examinations. Antigens against the viruses can be detected in the blood, and different liver values measured in the blood provide information on the liver function. An ultrasound examination or a liver biopsy can reveal the extent of the liver inflammation.

The treatment depends on the type of hepatitis and what has caused it. Hepatitis A and E normally heal within just a few weeks. A low-fat, liver-friendly diet with no alcohol supports the healing process. In the case of hepatitis B, C and D, anti-viral medications (virostatics) are used to prevent the development of chronic hepatitis or liver cirrhosis. If the patient has developed liver cirrhosis , a liver transplant is usually the only viable form of treatment.

There are vaccinations against hepatitis A and B. If you are vaccinated against hepatitis B, you are also protecting from hepatitis D. There is still no vaccine for Hepatitis C.