The term hepatitis refers to inflammation of the liver. Inflammation of the liver can be caused by alcohol and substance abuse, autoimmune illnesses, metabolic diseases and exposure to chemicals or environmental toxins. Viruses like cytomegalovirus and mononucleosis virus can also lead to inflammation of the liver. Majority of viruses can affect the liver but there are only a few viruses that primarily attack the organ. These viruses cause viral hepatitis. Viral hepatitis can develop due to viruses A, B, C, D, E, F and G. The most common types of viral hepatitis are hepatitis A, hepatitis B and hepatitis C.
Chronic Viral Hepatitis Overview
The liver is an organ positioned in the upper right part of the abdomen just below the diaphragm and behind the rib cage. It is the largest internal organ that weighs about three pounds. The liver is the vital organ with numerous functions.
The liver purifies the blood by converting toxic waste such as bilirubin, ammonia, drugs and alcohol into harmless substances that are then excreted from the body via urine or stool. The liver also stores many nutrients such as iron, copper, vitamins A, D and B12. Furthermore, the liver produces important proteins like albumin and coagulation factors as well as cholesterol, bile and thrombopoietin.
When inflammation of the liver develops, these functions of the organ start to decrease leading to a wide range of signs and symptoms related with viral hepatitis. Chronic viral hepatitis develops when acute cases of hepatitis last longer than 6 months. It is cased by the body’s inability to get rid of the viruses.
Symptoms of Chronic Viral Hepatitis
Chronic viral hepatitis can be caused by hepatitis B, hepatitis C or hepatitis D. The disease can be asymptomatic or can produce non specific symptoms such as malaise, fatigue and weakness. Over time chronic viral hepatitis leads to scarring within the liver, the condition known as liver cirrhosis. Liver cirrhosis produces loss of appetite, nausea, weight loss, abdominal pain and jaundice.
Chronic viral hepatitis can also lead to liver failure which may cause easy bleeding and bruising, itchy skin, accumulation of fluid in the abdomen, swelling in the legs, personality changes, coma and death. Liver failure is the most common case of liver transplantation in the United States. Liver cancer can also occur due to chronic viral hepatitis.
Diagnosis of Chronic Viral Hepatitis
People affected by chronic viral hepatitis can remain undiagnosed for many years as the disease is most often asymptomatic. The virus is usually discovered by a blood test but the diagnosis can be confirmed by a liver biopsy.