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Key information – Understanding Hepatitis

Posted by Xanit Internacional Xanit Internacional | Posted in Pediatrics | Posted on 06-08-2015

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Last Tuesday was Worldwide Hepatitis Day. Therefore we have asked Dr. Juan Carlos Gavilán, Head of Accident & Emergency, Heptology and Internal Medicine, to give us some information about this disease.

What is Hepatitis?     

The term hepatitis means inflammed liver and results in the destruction and inflammation of the cells which make up the hepatic tissue. Although there are many things which can cause hepatitis, such as toxins and drugs, in general this disease is related to an infection from a determined virus which has the capability of destroying and inflamming the hepatic tissue. These are known as the hepatitis virus and are determined with a letter (A, B, C, or delta).

Although all of these are connected with the hepatic tissue, each are different viruses with different mechanisms of transmission, and with different clinical behaviour. Some of these viruses have the capacity to develop into Cronic hepatitis, which is the case with the B and C types.

What are the symptoms?            

During the initial phase of the infection the clinical manifestations of hepatitis are similar to those of other viral infections.  The patient may have a fever, muscular and articular pain, a head ache etc. During the established phase, in 50% of cases, the hepatic inflammation results in the patient’s skin acquiring a yellowish colour due to the increase in bilirubin. This is known as  ictericia, and allows doctors to diagnose the illness easily. However, 50% of patients will not develop this yellow colouring, and the diagnosis is much more difficult. These cases are classed as subclinical hepatitis and are not diagnosed. In the Cronic Hepatitis phase it is common that the patient has no symptoms or that these are minor or non-specific thus making the diagnosis more difficult.

How is it contracted?     

Some of the forms of hepatitis (A & E) are acquired by a fecal-oral method of transmission. This means tha they have contracted the virus by consuming water which has been contaminated by faeces. In the case of Hepatitis B & C the main cause of transmission is due to exposure to contaminated blood. In the case of hepatitis B the virus is acquired by sexual transmission.

What is the treatment? Is there a cure?                       

Some types of hepatitis are always resolved during the intial phase, and never develop into the cronic form, as is the case with hepatitis A. Other forms of hepatitis, such as hepatitis B and especially hepatitis C can develop into cronic forms, and a percentage of these, over a substantial period of time, can degenerate into cirrhosis. Fortunately nowadays, there are effective treatments to cure hepatitis C, and in case of hepatitis B, specialists can try to ensure that the virus doesn’t multiply, in order that there is no damage to the hepatic tissue.

How many types of hepatitis are there?  How do they differ?  

In the case of those viral forms of hepatitis which have been previously discussed, apart form the transmission method, the main differences are based on the viruses capacity to develop into cronic forms of hepatitis, and in a portion of these cases for it to develop into  cirrhosis.

There are other reasons for the patient developing hepatitis such as some toxins, and less commonly, some drugs. Other rarer forms of hepatitis are known as autoinmune hepatitis. In these cases the hepatic damage is provoked by the patients own immune system, which recognises the persons own liver tissue as a foreign body, and attack’s it.

What can be done to improve the patients quality of life?

Nowadays it is essential that the patient sees a specialist if they identify abnormalities in blood tests results which demonstrate hepatic damage. In cases of cronic hepatitis. it is common that the patient has no symptoms and the only manifestation of hepatic damage is the alteration of the transaminases.  Once it has been confirmed that the patient is at risk, an adequate diagnosis enables specialists to prescribe efficient treatment for the different types of hepatitis.

Dr. Juan Carlos Gavilán

 Head of the A&E Unit, and the Heptology and internal Medicine Departments

 Vithas Xanit International Hospital