Hepatitis is a swelling of the liver that interferes with the organ’s functioning and that can lead to scarring (cirrhosis). Viruses are the most common causes of hepatitis, and each type is named for the virus that causes it.
This is the least serious form of the disease, often resulting from contact with blood or stool of an individual who has the hepatitis A virus (HAV). Symptoms may include fatigue, loss of appetite, low-grade fever, and yellowing of the skin (jaundice). While there is no specific treatment for hepatitis A, over 85 percent of patients recover on their own within 3 months without permanent damage to their liver.
This type of hepatitis can be spread through contact with blood, semen, or other bodily fluids of an individual who has the hepatitis B virus (HBV). Symptoms may include loss of appetite, fever, muscle and joint aches, or nausea and vomiting—or the patient may experience no symptoms at all.
Acute hepatitis B needs careful monitoring of the liver and certain bodily functions through blood tests. If your body is able to fight off the virus, any symptoms should go away over a period of weeks to months. Many patients will be put on a short course of antiviral medication to help their bodies fight off the virus.
Some patients are not able to completely get rid of the infection and develop chronic hepatitis B. Over time, these patients may develop symptoms of chronic liver damage and cirrhosis of the liver. Liver damage can often be prevented through simple oral medications that can suppress the virus’s ability to replicate. Severe, chronic hepatitis B may lead to liver failure and the need for a liver transplant. Hepatitis B can also cause liver cancer even in the absence of severe disease, so patients need to be monitored for the development of liver cancer.
This type of hepatitis can also be contracted through contact with the blood or other bodily fluids of person infected with the hepatitis C virus (HCV). The infection has acute and chronic forms, and most people who are infected with the virus develop chronic hepatitis C.
Most patients with hepatitis C experience no symptoms; those who do may notice pain in the upper right abdomen, abdominal swelling (ascites), dark urine, fatigue, and fever.
Many hepatitis C patients benefit from medications aimed at removing the virus from the blood and reducing the risk of cirrhosis and liver cancer, which can result from long-term infection. The chance of removing the hepatitis C virus from the blood with treatment is over 90 percent for some people. Even if treatment does not remove the virus completely, it can reduce the chance of severe liver disease.
Also called “delta hepatitis,” this is an infection of the liver caused by the hepatitis D virus (HDV), which can only develop if the patient is already infected with the hepatitis B virus (HBV).
Hepatitis D can be acquired in one of two ways:
- Coinfection: A person is infected with HBV and HDV at the same time. Coinfection is usually acute and will resolve on its own.
- Superinfection: A person who is already infected with HBV becomes infected with HDV. With superinfection, the cirrhosis from hepatitis B can become more severe and could eventually lead to liver failure.
Symptoms of hepatitis D are typically the same as those for hepatitis B: jaundice, dark urine, abdominal pain, confusion, nausea, and vomiting. If you have hepatitis B, any sudden worsening of your symptoms could be a sign of HDV infection.
Treatment for patients with co-infection is usually not needed; once the body fights off the hepatitis B infection, the HDV will also go away. Patients with superinfection may need antiviral therapy; if liver failure results, a liver transplant may be needed.
To find out more about the Methodist Center for Liver Disease and Transplantation, call us at 866-94-LIVER (866-945-4837) or send us an email.