Hepatitis. What is it? Put simply, is inflammation of the liver. Derived from the Greek root “hepar”, meaning liver and the suffix “itis,” meaning inflammation.
Hepatitis may occur with limited or no symptoms but can lead to jaundice, anorexia, malaise, and even death depending on the severity of the insult. Acute hepatitis occurs when a patient has inflammation lasting less than 6 months and chronic hepatitis is anything lasting longer.
Hepatitis may occur from a number of causes. The most common cause of hepatitis worldwide is from viruses. Other common causes are from metabolic derangements, i.e. fatty liver, alcohol, and also drug induced. Other causes can stem from infections, autoimmune disorders, vascular events, cancers and various hepatobiliary disorders.
Two of the more common viral causes of hepatitis worldwide are hepatitis B and hepatitis C. According to The Center for Disease Control (CDC), chronic hepatitis B is estimated to infect about 350 million people worldwide, while in the U.S., it is estimated to infect around 1 million people. Chronic hepatitis C is estimated to infect about 180 million people worldwide, while in the U.S., it is estimated to infect around 2.4 million.
Chronic hepatitis C is the principle cause of death from liver disease and has been the leading cause for transplantation in the U.S. Steatohepatitis has been on the rise and some estimate that it will eventually be the leading cause of liver transplantation in the future. Morbidity and mortality from hepatitis C is expected to peak in the coming decades. This information has the Center for Disease Control urging baby boomers (those born between 1946 and 1964) to get tested for hepatitis C. It is estimated that 1 in 30 are infected with the disease and are unaware.
Risk factors for hepatitis C can occur when there is exchange of blood from an infected person. Injection drug use, nasal inhalation with infected paraphernalia, blood transfusions prior to 1992, unsanitized tattoos, long-term dialysis, occupational exposure (medical personnel) and sharing razors with infected individuals are among some of the more common modalities of transmission. There is even a subset of patients that have no identifiable risk factors for transmission.
Treatment for hepatitis C has changed recently. With advancements in research, patients with hepatitis C are able to receive treatment with new agents which boost response rates for shorter periods of time. In the coming future, treatment is going to be more tolerable with fewer side effects than previous treatment methods.
Unfortunately, there is no vaccine for hepatitis C so primary prevention is currently aimed at identifying risk factors and education of the public.
For more information or to be screened for hepatitis C, contact our office to schedule an appointment with one of our gastroenterologists.