Hepatitis (plural hepatitides) is a medical condition defined by the inflammation of the liver and characterized by the presence of inflammatory cells in the tissue of the organ. The name is from the Greek hepar (ἧπαρ), the root being hepat- (ἡπατ-), meaning liver, and suffix -itis, meaning "inflammation" . The condition can be self-limiting (healing on its own) or can progress to fibrosis (scarring) and cirrhosis.
Hepatitis may occur with limited or no symptoms, but often leads to jaundice, anorexia (poor appetite) and malaise. Hepatitis is acute when it lasts less than six months and chronic when it persists longer. A group of viruses known as the hepatitis viruses cause most cases of hepatitis worldwide, but it can also be due to toxins (notably alcohol, certain medications, some industrial organic solvents and plants), other infections and autoimmune diseases.
Signs and symptoms
Initial features are of nonspecific flu-like symptoms, common to almost all acute viral infections and may include malaise, muscle and joint aches, fever, nausea or vomiting, diarrhea, and headache. More specific symptoms, which can be present in acute hepatitis from any cause, are: profound loss of appetite, aversion to smoking among smokers, dark urine, yellowing of the eyes and skin (i.e., jaundice) and abdominal discomfort. Physical findings are usually minimal, apart from jaundice in a third and tender hepatomegaly (swelling of the liver) in about 10%. Some exhibit lymphadenopathy (enlarged lymph nodes, in 5%) or splenomegaly (enlargement of the spleen, in 5%).
Acute viral hepatitis is more likely to be asymptomatic in younger people. Symptomatic individuals may present after convalescent stage of 7 to 10 days, with the total illness lasting 2 to 6 weeks.
A small proportion of people with acute hepatitis progress to acute liver failure, in which the liver is unable to clear harmful substances from the circulation (leading to confusion and coma due to hepatic encephalopathy) and produce blood proteins (leading to peripheral edema and bleeding). This may become life-threatening and occasionally requires a liver transplant.
Chronic hepatitis often leads to nonspecific symptoms such as malaise, tiredness and weakness, and often leads to no symptoms at all. It is commonly identified on blood tests performed either for screening or to evaluate nonspecific symptoms. The occurrence of jaundice indicates advanced liver damage. On physical examination there may be enlargement of the liver.
Extensive damage and scarring of liver (i.e. cirrhosis) leads to weight loss, easy bruising and bleeding tendencies, peripheral edema (swelling of the legs) and accumulation of ascites (fluid in the abdominal cavity). Eventually, cirrhosis may lead to various complications: esophageal varices (enlarged veins in the wall of the esophagus that can cause life-threatening bleeding) hepatic encephalopathy (confusion and coma) and hepatorenal syndrome (kidney dysfunction).
Acne, abnormal menstruation, lung scarring, inflammation of the thyroid gland and kidneys may be present in women with autoimmune hepatitis.
Hepatitis A, B, C, D, and E.
Non viral infection
rocky mountain spotted fever
Toxins: Amanita toxin in mushrooms, carbon tetrachloride, asafetida
Drugs: Paracetamol, amoxycillin, antituberculosis medicines, minocycline and many others (see longer list below).
Ischemic hepatitis (circulatory insufficiency)
Auto immune conditions, e.g., Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE)
Metabolic diseases, e.g., Wilson's disease
Viral hepatitis: Hepatitis B with or without hepatitis D, hepatitis C (neither hepatitis A nor hepatitis E causes chronic hepatitis)
alpha 1-antitrypsin deficiency
Primary biliary cirrhosis and primary sclerosing cholangitis occasionally mimic chronic hepatitis
Ethanol, mostly in alcoholic beverages, is a significant cause of hepatitis. Usually alcoholic hepatitis comes after a period of increased alcohol consumption. Alcoholic hepatitis is characterized by a variable constellation of symptoms, which may include feeling unwell, enlargement of the liver, development of fluid in the abdomen ascites, and modest elevation of liver blood tests. Alcoholic hepatitis can vary from mild with only liver test elevation to severe liver inflammation with development of jaundice, prolonged prothrombin time, and liver failure. Severe cases are characterized by either obtundation (dulled consciousness) or the combination of elevated bilirubin levels and prolonged prothrombin time; the mortality rate in both categories is 50% within 30 days of onset.
Alcoholic hepatitis is distinct from cirrhosis caused by long term alcohol consumption. Alcoholic hepatitis can occur in patients with chronic alcoholic liver disease and alcoholic cirrhosis. Alcoholic hepatitis by itself does not lead to cirrhosis, but cirrhosis is more common in patients with long term alcohol consumption. Patients who drink alcohol to excess are also more often than others found to have hepatitis C.The combination of hepatitis C and alcohol consumption accelerates the development of cirrhosis.