THE heaviest and largest internal organ is the liver. The liver’s main function is to process everything you ingest and purify your blood.
The most amazing thing about your liver is that it can repair itself when its cells sustain minor damage. In cases of severe damage or inflammation, your liver stops functioning properly and the resulting condition can be fatal.
Inflammation of the liver is called hepatitis, which can be caused by a virus, alcoholism, fatty liver, autoimmunity or prolonged use of certain drugs.
While hepatitis due to other causes is preventable through lifestyle intervention such as healthy eating and moderation of alcohol intake, viral hepatitis is preventable only by vaccination.
Viral hepatitis is caused by one or more of five types of viruses.
Hepatitis A virus – This virus is transferred through contact with infected faecal matter and spreads through food and water contaminated with infected human faeces.
People usually recover from hepatitis A without permanent liver damage and with lifelong immunity. However, hepatitis A can turn to fulminant hepatitis in some cases, which can be fatal. Hepatitis B virus – The most common viral hepatitis in Malaysia as well as the world, hepatitis B is preventable through vaccination, which, according to World Health Organization, is 95% effective against the virus. A potentially life-threatening disease, hepatitis B can cause a chronic liver infection with increased risk of hepatic cancer and cirrhosis.
Spread through contaminated bodily fluids, chronic hepatitis B is treatable, but there is no precise treatment for acute cases. Hepatitis C virus – A bloodborne virus, hepatitis C cases can be acute (suddenly occurring) or chronic (developing over a long period). While recovery is usually possible in acute cases, people with chronic hepatitis C can develop cirrhosis or hepatic cancer, which can be fatal. Treatment is possible, but there is currently no vaccination against hepatitis C. Hepatitis D virus – When this virus occurs together with the hepatitis B virus, one develops hepatitis D. People with chronic hepatitis B can acquire hepatitis D from a carrier through needle-sharing, blood and sexual contact.
What makes hepatitis D dangerous is that its co-existence with hepatitis B makes it difficult to treat. However, if it is not treated, both conditions can cause cirrhosis, which can lead to liver failure.
The best way to prevent hepatitis D is to be vaccinated against hepatitis B. Hepatitis E virus – Similar to the hepatitis A virus, this virus spreads through food and water contaminated with infected human faeces.
Most hepatitis E cases are uncomplicated and full recovery is possible without permanent liver damage.
It is very likely that if you have hepatitis, you may not have any apparent symptoms, which makes this disease even more dangerous. Initial symptoms of hepatitis mirror symptoms of the common flu and can interfere with diagnosis.
However, it is imperative that you schedule a check-up if you notice any of the symptoms as an early diagnosis can save your life. It is, after all, better to be safe than sorry.
Look out for these symptoms that can be early indicators of hepatitis.
Mild fever Prolonged loss of appetite Vomiting and nausea Prolonged fatigue Abdominal pain
Joint and muscular pain
If you have most of the above symptoms, it is advisable to also keep an eye out for the following ones, which indicate advanced hepatitis. Immediate medical attention is required if you display these symptoms.
Yellowing of skin, nails and whites of the eyes, commonly known as jaundice Dark-coloured urine Light-coloured stools Piercing abdominal pain
Viral hepatitis can affect anyone, but people who are not vaccinated face a higher risk of getting infected.
Such individuals should be extra careful around people with hepatitis and when visiting a country that has a high prevalence of viral hepatitis.
Since chronic hepatitis B can be passed on to foetuses by mothers, it is important for infected mothers to undergo regular check-ups.
A preventative measure is to have newborn babies vaccinated against the virus.
On the non-viral hepatitis front, people who lead unhealthy lifestyles including those who are alcoholic, get little to no exercise and practise unhealthy eating habits are more likely to develop the disease.
The best way to fight this deadly liver disease is through awareness. Educate yourself about hepatitis and its symptoms, causes, treatment procedures and prevention methods to keep yourself and your loved ones safe.