Hepatitis Can Cause Serious Liver Damage

Hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver. It may be caused by drugs, alcohol use, or certain medical conditions. But in most cases, it's caused by a virus. This is known as viral hepatitis, and the most common forms are hepatitis A, B, and C. Hepatitis can cause serious damage to the liver including liver cirrhosis and liver cancer.

Symptoms

Sometimes there are no symptoms of hepatitis in the first weeks after infection -- the acute phase. But when they happen, the symptoms of types A, B, and C may include:

  • Fatigue
  • Nausea
  • Poor appetite
  • Stomach ache
  • Mild fever
  • Yellow skin or eyes (jaundice).

When hepatitis B and C become chronic, they may cause no symptoms for years. By the time there are any warning signs, the liver may already be damaged.

Hepatitis A: It s highly contagious and usually spreads through food or water. Food can be tainted when it's touched by a person with hepatitis who did not wash his hands after using the bathroom. This transfers tiny amounts of infected stool to the food. Raw shellfish, fruits, vegetables, and undercooked foods are common culprits in hepatitis A outbreaks. The virus can also spread in day care centers if employees aren't careful about washing hands after changing diapers. A prime risk factor for hepatitis A is travelling to or living in a country with high infection rates. Eating raw foods or drinking tap water can raise your risk while travelling. The virus almost always goes away on its own and does not cause long-term liver damage.

Hepatitis B: Many adults who get hepatitis B have mild symptoms for a short time and then get better on their own. But some people are not able to clear the virus from the body, which causes a long-term infection. Nearly 90% of infants who get the virus will carry it for life. Over time, hepatitis B can lead to serious problems, such as liver damage, liver failure, and liver cancer. You can get it through contact with the blood or body fluids of an infected person. It's also possible to get hepatitis B by sharing an infected person's needles, razors, or toothbrush. An infected mother can pass the virus to her baby during childbirth. Hepatitis B is not spread by hugging, sharing food, or coughing. Anyone can get hepatitis B, but people who have multiple sex partners or inject illegal drugs have a higher risk. Other risk factors include being a health care worker who is exposed to blood, or living with someone who has chronic hepatitis B.

Hepatitis C: About 25% of people who get hepatitis C defeat the virus after a short-term infection. The rest will carry the virus in their body for the long term. Chronic hepatitis C can cause very serious complications, including liver failure and liver cancer. It spreads through infected blood. Getting a tattoo or body piercing with an infected needle is another means of exposure. An infected mother can pass the virus to her baby during childbirth and in rare cases unprotected sex can spread hepatitis C. Having multiple sex partners, HIV or rough sex seems to raise the risk for spreading hepatitis C. People who have injected illegal drugs at any time, even one time, many years ago, could be walking around with chronic hepatitis C. Because there are often no symptoms, many former drug users may not realize they have the infection. People who received a blood transfusion before 1992 also have a higher risk. Before that year, donated blood was not screened for the hepatitis C virus.

Who Should Be Tested for Hepatitis?

Testing is important for anyone with the risk factors we've mentioned, particularly injected drug users and people who have had multiple sex partners.

What if You Test Positive?

If a test says you have viral hepatitis, you can take steps to protect the ones you love. For hepatitis A, wash hands frequently. For hepatitis B and C, avoid sharing nail clippers, razors, or toothbrushes. Make sure everyone in your household gets the hepatitis B vaccine. An important step is to see a specialist to discuss treatment options.

Sources: www.webmd.com  | www.medicalnewstoday.com  |  www.nlm.nih.gov

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