Overview and Definition
The liver is the body’s largest organ and it plays a crucial role in facilitating the digestion of food, the storing of energy, and the removal of toxins. Hepatitis is a disease characterised by an inflammation of the liver. There are different types of hepatitis, each of which is named after the virus that causes it. Five main types of viruses cause hepatitis – type A, B, C, D, and E.
More than half a billion people around the world suffer from Hepatitis B, C, and D, resulting in more than a million deaths each year. Some forms of hepatitis can be mild, while others can be serious. At times, hepatitis can go away on its own without the need for medical intervention. However, if this does not occur, treatment with drugs can be pursued. In some cases, hepatitis lasts a lifetime. For some viral forms of hepatitis, vaccination can be an effective prevention measure. Chronic infection caused by hepatitis can also lead subsequently to cirrhosis of the liver, end-stage liver disease, and liver cancer.
The most common causes of hepatitis are viruses. However, other causes include infections, heavy alcohol use, toxins, certain medications, as well as autoimmune disease. Hepatitis A and E are usually caused by the consumption of contaminated food or water. Hepatitis B on the other hand is often contracted due to contact with infected blood, semen, or other bodily fluid through sex, needle sharing, or from mother to child at birth. Hepatitis C is a blood-borne virus that is largely spread by sharing needles or other drug injection equipment. Hepatitis D, which is transmitted through contact with infectious blood, occurs only among individuals who area already infected with hepatitis B.
At times, individuals who suffer from hepatitis may have no symptoms for an extended period of time. For others, hepatitis may lead to the experiencing of:
- Loss of appetite
- Nausea and vomiting
- Dark-coloured urine
- Pale-coloured stool
Certain factors may increase the likelihood of contracting hepatitis. You are at higher risk of suffering from hepatitis if you have/are:
- Medical history of clotting factor disorder
- Medical history of chronic liver disease
- Living currently or previously with one or more persons with hepatitis B
- Recently diagnosed with a sexually transmitted disease
- Suffering from diabetes
- Diagnosed with HIV/AIDS
- Male and have sexual relations with other men
- Previously injected or are currently injecting drugs
Steps to Take
Different blood tests exist for the various types of viral hepatitis. Some tests check for antibodies to a hepatitis virus, while other tests look for parts of a virus, such as proteins or genetic material to detect the presence of the virus.
Doctors use these blood tests to diagnose hepatitis and to screen individuals who are at risk for contracting hepatitis B or C. Such tests can also be utilised for those who already have hepatitis in order to assess their contagiousness or to evaluate the effectiveness of ongoing medical treatment.
If you are at high risk of developing hepatitis or suspect you have the disease, speak to your doctor about your concerns. In order to diagnose hepatitis, you doctor may ask you about your medical history and symptoms, conduct a physical examination, and order relevant blood tests. Quest offers a wide array of hepatitis and liver profile tests that may be used by your doctor to evaluate a sample of your blood for hepatitis infection.
(Adapted from the National Institutes of Health)