Identifying hepatitis infection

  • Hepatitis A, B and C symptoms may include abdominal pain or distention, breast development in men, dark urine, pale or clay-colored stool, fatigue, low-grade fever, general itching, jaundice (pictured), loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting and weight loss. When hepatitis B and C become chronic, they may cause no symptoms for years, but liver damage can occur before there are any warning signs.

  • Hepatitis spreads in different ways depending on the serotype. Hepatitis A is spread through contaminated food and water. Hepatitis B primarily spreads through unprotected sex or sharing needles. Hepatitis C is a bloodborne infection; therefore, injection drug users and people who get tattoos at increased risk for infection.

  • The most common treatment for chronic hepatitis C is a combination of antiviral medications called interferon and ribavirin. Interferon is given as a shot and ribavirin is a pill. Studies suggest this combination can cure or control hepatitis C in about half of patients. Recently, the FDA approved two new drugs for patients who don’t respond to these therapies — the protease inhibitors boceprevir and telaprevir.

  • Patients with hepatitis should undergo regular blood tests and ultrasound or CT scans, as pictured, to determine the presence and stage of liver fibrosis or cirrhosis.

  • This image shows a healthy liver (left), a fatty liver (center), and a liver with cirrhosis (right), a common and severe hepatitis complication characterized by the replacement of normal tissue with fibrous tissue, and the loss of functional liver cells.

  • Liver cancer, shown in light green in the upper left of this CT scan, is another hepatitis complication. This patient, a 45-year-old woman, has a large hepatocellular carcinoma (dark green) within the liver. Calcification (purple dots) is also seen. The liver is the largest gland in the body, and has many vital roles that include metabolising nutrients and detoxifying the blood. This makes liver cancer treatment difficult and prognosis poor.

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Hepatitis is swelling and inflammation of the liver caused by viral infection with hepatitis A, B or C; bacteria or parasites; autoimmune disorders; or from drug overdose or alcohol abuse.

Cancer and cancer treatment related causes of hepatitis include liver damage secondary to metastatic disease, chemotherapeutic drug metabolism in the liver, and adverse reactions to specific drugs (acetaminophen, NSAIDs, glucocorticoids) or herbal and alternative remedies (Ackee fruit, Bajiaolian, Camphor, Copaltra, Cycasin, Kava, pyrrolizidine alkaloids, Horse Chestnut Leaf, Valerian, and Comfrey).

The severity of hepatitis depends on many factors, including the cause of the liver damage and the presence of comorbid conditions. Hepatitis A is usually short-term and does not lead to chronic liver problems. Many patients with hepatitis B and C are initially asymptomatic, but may develop liver failure later. Learn more in the slideshow below.

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