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You are here : 3-RX.com > Medical Encyclopedia > Diseases and Conditions > Hepatitis


Alternate Names : Viral Hepatitis

Overview, Causes, & Risk Factors | Symptoms & Signs | Diagnosis & Tests | Prevention & Expectations | Treatment & Monitoring

Hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver that can affect how the liver works.

What is going on in the body?

The liver is an important organ in the body located in the upper right quadrant of the abdomen. It is responsible for:

  • filtering the blood
  • making bile, a substance that aids in digestion and helps rid the body of harmful substances
  • processing fats and sugars, helping the body store energy for later use
  • making important proteins, such as those involved in blood clotting
  • metabolizing many medications, such as barbiturates, sedatives, and amphetamines
  • storing vitamins A, B12, D, and several of the B-complex vitamins. The liver also stores iron and copper.
  • If the liver becomes inflamed, its ability to perform these functions may be impaired. Liver disease can be caused by a variety of conditions including viral infections, bacterial invasion, and chemical or physical changes within the body.

    Symptoms of hepatitis may be acute, occurring suddenly, or chronic, developing slowly over a long period of time. Hepatitis may range from mild to severe depending on the type of hepatitis infection. There are 5 main forms of hepatitis, each named for the type of virus causing the inflammation. These are:

  • hepatitis A, which usually only causes problems in the liver. It is primarily spread through food or water that is contaminated by the hepatitis A virus from an infected person. Hepatitis A often occurs in epidemic settings.
  • hepatitis B, which has been found in blood, saliva, semen, and vaginal secretions. It can be spread through sexual contact with an infected individual, passed on to a newborn from an infected mother during childbirth, or transmitted from contact with infected blood or bodily fluids.
  • hepatitis C, which may be spread by infected IV drug users, by blood transfusions that were not screened for hepatitis, and by some organ transplants. Sharing contaminated personal hygiene items, such as toothbrushes and razors, may also cause the spread of hepatitis C.
  • hepatitis D, which is spread through contaminated needles or sexual contact. Hepatitis D cannot survive in the body unless the person is also infected with the hepatitis B virus.
  • hepatitis E, which is found primarily in underdeveloped countries with poor sanitation. It is primarily spread through food or water contamination.
  • Hepatitis B, C, and D can cause lifelong symptoms and problems in the liver as well as in other parts of the body.

    What are the causes and risks of the disease?

    The causes and risks of hepatitis vary, depending on the form of hepatitis. The hepatitis virus may be spread a number of ways, including:

  • sexual contact with a person who is infected by the virus
  • shared IV drug needles
  • intranasal cocaine use
  • exposure to infected healthcare workers, including dentists
  • contamination of a healthcare worker during patient care
  • contaminated blood transfusions that were given prior to the screening for hepatitis C
  • food or water that has been contaminated by feces from an infected person
  • contaminated water and food consumed during travel to Third World countries
  • exposure to the infected mother during childbirth
  • organ transplantation
  • sharing contaminated personal hygiene items, such as razors, toothbrushes, or nail clippers.


    Next section


    Hepatitis: Symptoms & Signs

    Author: Eileen McLaughlin, RN, BSN
    Reviewer: Barbara Mallari, RN, BSN, PHN
    Date Reviewed: 07/13/01

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