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10 Complications of Hepatitis

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Updated July 23, 2008

Hepatitis can progress to, or be complicated by other diseases. Some of these diseases, like fibrosis and cirrhosis, are very common. Fortunately, other complications like liver failure are usually prevented. This article identifies 10 possible complications linked with hepatitis.

1. Fibrosis

One of the most common complications of chronic hepatitis is fibrosis, which is a type of scarring of the liver. The liver is damaged by constant inflammation and creates the scar tissue to repair itself. Unfortunately, this scar tissue keeps the liver from working as it once did. The good news is that if fibrosis is controlled in time and limited to a small part of the liver, the rest of the organ can work harder and keep up with the liver's functions. When the fibrosis becomes extensive, doctors describes this as cirrhosis.

2. Cirrhosis of the Liver

CDC/Dr. Edwin P. Ewing, Jr.
Extensive fibrosis is called cirrhosis. Hepatitis C and alcoholic hepatitis are two very common causes of cirrhosis, though there are many others.

3. Cancer of the Liver

One of the complications of cirrhosis is liver cancer, which is usually two types. Hepatocellular carcinoma is a type of cancer that affects the liver cells. The other type is cholangiolar carcinoma, which affects the bile ducts.

4. Liver Failure

Liver failure is a serious, but uncommon, complication of hepatitis. Doctors use different terms to describe variations of liver failure, such as fulminant liver failure, fulminant hepatic failure or acute liver failure. Basically, the liver no longer functions and this leads to the body shutting down, and eventually, death. There are many specific causes of liver failure, but in general, failure results when the liver is so damaged that it is unable to keep up with the body's needs.

5. Glomerulonephritis

Glomerulonephritis is a complicated disorder of the kidneys caused by inflammation and is seen in chronic hepatitis B and hepatitis C infections.

6. Cryoglobulinemia

Seen in chronic hepatitis B and hepatitis C infection, cryoglobulinemia is an uncommon disease caused by an abnormal cluster of a kind of protein that blocks small blood vessels leading to circulation problems.

7. Hepatic Encephalopathy

Severe loss of liver function, such as liver failure, can lead to inflammation in the brain called encephalopathy. This causes mental problems, like confusion, and can lead to coma. Advanced hepatic encephalopathy is a serious condition and is usually fatal.

8. Portal Hypertension

One of the liver's important jobs is to filter blood. However, cirrhosis and other problems can interfere with the liver's portal circulation system. When this portal system is blocked, blood can't return to the liver from the digestive system and pressure increases, called portal hypertension. This is a serious complication and can be fatal.

9. Porphyria

A.D.A.M.
Porphyria is a group of diseases caused by problems processing important chemicals in the body called porphyrins. One type, called porphyria cutanea tara, leads to blistering of the hands and face and is a rare complication of chronic hepatitis C infection.

10. Viral Co-Infection

A challenging complication of hepatitis is the possibility of having two viral infections at the same time. Hepatitis doesn't cause the second infection, but it does make it more difficult for the immune system to successfully attack. A common with co-infection with hepatitis is the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). Because of this, it is especially important for someone with hepatitis to take precautions against HIV infection. Other common co-infections are with the hepatotrophic viruses, named A through E.
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