Hepatitis is a viral condition that causes the liver to become inflamed and damaged. The most common types are hepatitis B and C.
Hepatitis B is caused by the HBV virus which can cause scarring of the liver and lead to cancer, cirrhosis or liver failure. It can be passed from mother to child or be caused by contaminated needles or equipment that has been in contact with infected blood. Having a tattoo, body piercing or medical treatment in an unhygienic environment with unsterilised equipment can be a source of hepatitis B while risk is heightened by unprotected sex and travel to regions where the condition is prevalent.
Most cases of hepatitis B in adults can be fought off by the body’s immune system in around six months. The younger you are when it is contracted the more likely it will develop into a chronic condition but a vaccination is now available for people considered high risk
Hepatitis C is caused by contact with the blood of an infected person. Almost 90 per cent of cases occur in people who have inject drugs or have injected drugs in the past as the infection is spread by sharing contaminated needles and other equipment associated with recreational drug or steroid use. This can include toothbrushes, scissors and razors which have minute traces of infected blood.
Public Health England estimates that 160,000 people in England are living with hepatitis C.
Many people do not show symptoms for hepatitis B and it can remain undetected for months or years before they show. The symptoms include fever, joint and abdominal pain, loss of appetitive, nausea, skin rash, dark urine, weakness and jaundice.
A similar symptom profile exists for hepatitis C and both types can progress from an acute infection that the body can fight off to a chronic condition which can cause serious lasting damage to the liver.
Chronic cases can be associated with a mental deterioration or ‘brain fog’, depression or anxiety.
It is important to seek medical advice from a GP if you are in an at-risk group and have symptoms. But if you feel you may have been infected, medical opinion is also advisable as symptoms may not show.
A blood sample will be sent to a laboratory for analysis to test for specific antibodies that are present when the body tries to combat the initial infection but a second test – called a PCR – can also determine if certain antigens are present, indicating the condition is replicating.
A consultant may also request a needle biopsy to remove a tiny piece of the liver for further analysis.
If the hepatitis B infection is in the acute stage, a doctor may prescribe rest and a nutrition boosting diet to help the body fight it off. If it has progressed to the chronic stage, a course of anti-viral medication can bolster the body’s immune system to slow it down and reduce the damage caused to the liver.
A course of a synthetic version of a substance produced by the body to fight infection can be given as a weekly injection to young people. Specialists also have other drugs, taken as daily tablets, that can be used to control the condition.
Patients with hepatitis C will be prescribed anti-viral drugs as a combination therapy depending on which one of the six main strains of virus identified by the tests. Lifestyle changes – such as removing at risk activities and improving diet and exercise regimes – will also help. It is estimated that around 90% of patients can be cured with the latest medications.
To ask a question, make an enquiry or book an appointment, contact our specialist team who are available between Monday – Friday 8am – 6pm and on Saturday from 9.00am to 2.00pm. Our GI Unit team have a dedicated and caring approach and will seek to find you the earliest appointment possible with the correct specialist for your needs.