The liver is a very important organ in the body — it acts as the body’s main factory. Chronic viral hepatitis is a condition that severely impacts it. Among the liver’s many functions, it destroys poisonous substances, stores minerals, regulates fat storage, breaks down medication, and changes food into energy, hormones, immune factors, and proteins.
Hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver. It produces swelling and sometimes presents permanent damage. It is caused by a number of things including drugs, chemicals, alcohol and viral infections. If the liver is inflamed for at least six months or longer, then the condition is referred to as chronic hepatitis.
There are currently five known viruses that cause viral hepatitis.
- Viral Hepatitis A: Spread by eating food or drinking water that is contaminated with human feces. Also known as “infectious hepatitis,” this type of viral hepatitis is not typically life-threatening.
- Viral Hepatitis B: Spread from mother to child at birth or soon after, through sexual contact, or through contaminated blood transfusions and needles. Also known as “serum hepatitis,” this form of viral hepatitis may lead to cirrhosis, or severe scarring of the liver.
- Viral Hepatitis C: One of the most common forms of viral hepatitis, this form is spread through blood transfusions and contaminated needles. For a large amount of patients, the cause is unknown. It can also lead to cirrhosis.
- Viral Hepatitis D: Found among IV drug users who are carriers of the hepatitis B virus. It is spread only in the presence of hepatitis B and is considered a serious health problem.
- Viral Hepatitis E: Found most often in people who live in countries with poor sanitation. Similar to viral hepatitis A, this form of viral hepatitis is rare in North America, and is rarely life-threatening.
Acute hepatitis, which is typically caused by type A and E, is the initial infection and may be mild or severe. Chronic hepatitis, which can be caused by type B, C, and D, are major health concerns.
It is also possible that a person can be a carrier for hepatitis B, C, or D virus in their blood even though they do not show signs of symptoms. However, because the virus is in the blood, it can still be transmitted to others. Blood tests can determine if someone is a carrier.
What are the Symptoms of Chronic Viral Hepatitis?
Many cases of viral hepatitis go undiagnosed because the symptoms are similar to the flu. In some cases, there are no symptoms at all. Some people may develop nausea, fatigue, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal discomfort, muscle and joint aches, jaundice, and changes in the color of urine and stools. If you believe that you have been exposed to viral hepatitis, call your doctor and schedule an appointment immediately. The doctor will examine your medical history, take a blood test, and perform a physical examination. Hospitalization is not typically required unless a person is unable to keep down foods and liquids over a period of time.
Will I Need a Liver Biopsy?
Liver bisopy is a procedure where a small piece of liver is extracted and analyzed under a microscope. This procedure is typically performed to confirm the diagnosis of viral hepatitis and to determine the degree of damage the virus has caused.
What is the Treatment for Chronic Viral Hepatitis?
After your doctor classifies what type of viral hepatitis you have, a treatment program can be discussed. Exercise, a nutritious diet, and alcohol abstinence are all recommend measures for treating viral hepatitis. People with hepatitis A or E should not prepare or handle food eaten by other people.
Tips for Preventing Chronic Viral Hepatitis
- Vaccines are available to protect people against hepatitis A & B
- Good sanitation and personal hygienic can help reduce the spread of hepatitis A and E
- Boil water if you think it has been contaminated
- Avoid eating shell fish from contaminated waters
- Wash hands, eating utensils, bedding, and clothing in soap and water
- Avoid exposure to blood or body fluids of infected persons
- Do not share razors, scissors, nail files, needles, or toothbrushes