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The term hepatitis refers to swelling and inflammation of the liver. It can be caused by numerous things and can result in a variety of conditions. In some cases, it may be short term while in others it is a chronic problem. Chronic and severe acute hepatitis can lead to severe problems including liver damage, liver cancer, or liver failure. Health conditions associated with hepatitis are treated in numerous ways depending upon the nature and severity of the condition. Some cases can be treated or managed while others can cause irreparable damage to the liver that can lead to death. Hepatitis is not a condition in itself, but the term is often used in describing a viral infection that is present in the liver. Common causes and types of hepatitis include alcoholic hepatitis, autoimmune hepatitis, drug-induced hepatitis, and hepatitis A, B, C, and D. It may also occur as the result of hereditary disorders like hemochromatosis or cystic fibrosis.

Symptoms of Hepatitis

The symptoms of hepatitis vary based upon the severity, but general signs include abdominal pain or distention, dark urine, fatigue, jaundice, loss of appetite, weight loss, nausea, and vomiting. Many people do not notice any symptoms immediately after being infected with hepatitis B or C, but severe liver damage can still occur. As a result, those who are at risk for contracting such infections should be tested on a regular basis.

Diagnosing Hepatitis

Hepatitis is usually diagnosed through a physical examination and a series of laboratory and imaging tests. During a physical exam, doctors can detect common signs of liver disease including fluid in the abdomen, an enlarged liver, and yellowing of the skin. Simple blood tests are often performed to check for autoimmune blood markers and liver enzymes that determine liver function. An abdominal ultrasound may also be performed to give doctors a clear view of the liver itself. In some cases, a biopsy may be taken to check for liver damage or cancer.

Treating Hepatitis

The treatment options for hepatitis vary depending upon the cause and type. Patients with hepatitis A are typically able to recover on their own with out any further treatment. Many other types require medication to treat the infection. Some medications are given orally while others are given by injection. In cases where hepatitis is caused by drug or alcohol abuse, lifestyle changes are required to prevent further damage, and medications may be prescribed to treat existing damage. In extreme cases of hepatitis, a liver transplant may be required. This most commonly occurs in patients with hepatitis C. The general prognosis for hepatitis varies. When it is detected early and little damage is done, it can often be managed. In later stages, however, it can lead to fatal complications.