By our special correspondent
What is Hepatitis?
Hepatitis involves inflammation of the liver cells and damage to the liver caused by exposure to toxins, alcohol misuse, immune diseases, some medications, certain medical conditions and contact with an infected patient or infection. Viruses cause the majority of cases of hepatitis. The liver is a vital organ that processes nutrients, filters the blood and fights infections. When the liver is inflamed or damaged, its functions can be affected.
Hepatitis could also be caused by the hepatitis virus which could be easily contracted from a victim mainly through contact of body fluids of any kind such as sexual contact, blood contact or even saliva. Slight contact with these fluids can transmit the disease. There are different types and causes of hepatitis, but the symptoms can be very similar.
Viral infections of the liver that are classified as hepatitis include hepatitis A, B, C, D and E. A different virus is responsible for each type of virally transmitted hepatitis
5 Types of Viral Hepatitis
Hepatitis A is caused by an infection with the hepatitis A virus (HAV). This type of hepatitis is most commonly transmitted by consuming food or water contaminated by feces from a person infected with hepatitis A.
Hepatitis B is a potentially life-threatening liver infection caused by the hepatitis B virus (HBV). It is a major global health problem. It can cause chronic infection and puts people at high risk of death from cirrhosis and liver cancer. It is transmitted through contact with infectious body fluids, such as blood transfusion, vaginal secretions or semen, containing the hepatitis B virus (HBV). Drug use, having sex with an infected partner or sharing razors with an infected person increase your risk of getting hepatitis B. The hepatitis B virus can survive outside the body for at least 7 days. During this time, the virus can still cause infection if it enters the body of a person. The virus may be detected within 30 to 60 days after infection and can persist and develop into chronic hepatitis B. Long-term complications, such as liver cancer or cirrhosis, can affect around 15-25% of people with chronic hepatitis B. This can lead to liver failure, where your liver stops working properly, and even liver cancer. It can also cause blood vessel problems and kidney disease. Hepatitis B can even cause death if it’s not treated.
Hepatitis C comes from the hepatitis C virus (HCV). Hepatitis C is spread through contact with blood from an infected person. Today, most people become infected with the hepatitis C virus by sharing needles or other equipment used to prepare and inject drugs.
Hepatitis D is a liver infection you can get if you have hepatitis B. It can cause serious symptoms that can lead to lifelong liver damage and even death. It’s sometimes called Hepatitis Delta Virus (HDV) or delta hepatitis.
Hepatitis E is a waterborne disease caused by the hepatitis E virus (HEV). Hepatitis E is mainly found in areas with poor sanitation and typically results from ingesting fecal matter that contaminates the water supply. If not treated with caution, this hepatitis virus would gradually grow into a more severe state which results in scarring of the liver, abnormal functionality of the liver and in due time, chronic hepatitis, liver cancer or cirrhosis.
Symptoms of Hepatitis
With hepatitis that are chronic, like hepatitis B and C you may not have symptoms in the beginning. Symptoms may not occur until the damage affects the liver function. That is why it is necessary to do regular checkup of your health condition. The symptoms of the different types of hepatitis are similar, but laboratory tests can identify the specific type a person has.
Signs and symptoms of acute hepatitis appear quickly. They include:
- flu-like symptoms
- dark urine
- pale/ clay-colored stool
- abdominal pain
- loss of appetite
- malaise, or a general feeling of being unwell
- itchy skin
- muscle or joint aches
- unexplained weight loss
- Nausea and/or vomiting.
- yellow skin and eyes which may be sign of jaundice
When we get sick, we want to get well quickly. Some of us turn to our doctors first, while others may try home remedies or alternative medicine. Many of us do both.
Natural medicine means that no chemicals, drugs or surgeries are used to help you get well. Alternative medicine is simply an alternative to conventional medicine. For instance, in the U.S., ancient healing practices, such as faith healing, Chinese medicine or seeing a curandero (Spanish for healer) are alternatives. So are naturopathy, homeopathy, and herbal medicine. Integrative medicine uses both. It’s common for people to use more than one healing method.
In the U.S., we have access to many alternatives, and we tend to apply Western medical concepts to natural medicine. This is most evident in our use of supplements. When diagnosed with hepatitis B, we may want to “take something” that will help the liver, such as a supplement or herb. It’s easier to take something than it is to exercise and eat right. However, everything passes through the liver, and just because herbs and supplements are natural, they aren’t necessarily safe.
Despite claims on the Internet, no natural remedy has been proven to cure hepatitis B. There may be remedies that improve symptoms associated with hep B, but none has permanently eradicated the virus. There isn’t a large body of research on natural remedies and hepatitis B; much of what we know is anecdotal, meaning that people tell others about their experiences.
If you are interested in herbs and other dietary supplements, don’t forget to assess your overall health. If you smoke, drink alcohol or have other potentially unhealthy habits, do not expect herbs to offset the potential damage these habits can cause. Adopting healthy habits will provide far more benefits than supplements can.
If you have hepatitis B or another liver disease, here’s important information about supplements:
- If you have decompensated cirrhosis, never take supplements unless recommended by your doctor.
- If you are on medications to manage your hepatitis B, do not take herbs or supplements unless your doctor recommends it.
- Some supplements prolong bleeding times or interfere with anesthetics. Stop all supplement use at least a week prior to any surgery or procedure that uses anesthesia. Tell your medical team and anesthesiologist about any herbs you are using, particularly if the procedure occurs before you have sufficient time to observe this “wash-out” period.
- Report any suspected adverse reactions to an herb or supplement to the FDA’s monitoring program, Medwatch.
If you are interested in supplements, here are tips for safer use:
- Talk to your doctor before using supplements.
- Apply the same commonsense approach and standards to herbs as you would to any drug; ask the same questions about supplements that you would a medicine.
- Before you take an herb or supplement, find out if it is compatible with other drugs or supplements you are taking and not contraindicated for any other condition you may have.
- Be skeptical. Claims made by the product manufacturer or seller may differ from independent research.
- More is not better; do not exceed the recommended dose.
- Supplements may be contaminated, so know your source. In rare cases, people have suffered liver damage as a consequence of taking contaminated substances.
- Choose supplements that are standardized. Buy products that submit to voluntary self-regulation.
- Do not rely on health store staff for medical information. Although they may be helpful, remember that salespeople are usually not licensed to practice medicine.
- Do not be swayed by personal testimonies. Let medical advice and evidence guide your decision to use supplements.
- Do not be influenced by the latest supplement to make headlines. Supplements are like cars; when new models are introduced, sometimes it takes time before problems develop. A product that has value will stand up to the test of time.
The following herbs may be harmful to the liver, so before taking these or any herbs or dietary supplements, talk to your health care provider:
- Atractylis gummifera
- Bush tea
- Callilepsis laureola
- Chapparal leaf (creosote bush, greasewood)
- Comfrey (Symphytum officinale)
- Gordolobo herbal tea
- Kava (Piper methysticum)
- Kombucha mushroom (tea)
- Ma-Huang (Ephedra sinica)
- Margosa oil
- Mate (Paraguay) tea
- Nutmeg (if taken in large doses)
- Pennyroyal (squawmint oil)
- Tansy Ragwort (variation of Ragwort)
- Senecio aureus
- Valerian Root