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Types of Hepatitis

Understanding Different Types of Hepatitis

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Updated February 23, 2009

In a general sense, hepatitis simply means "inflammation of the liver" and though there are several different causes, it's likely that most people are thinking only about viral hepatitis. However, it's good to understand all the different types because, though they have different causes, they can all lead to dangerous complications such as liver cancer and cirrhosis.

1. Viral Hepatitis

Viruses are microscopic particles that can spread among living creatures (including humans) in different ways and cause many kinds of infections. There are five viruses, named after the first 5 letters of the alphabet, that specifically infect cells of the liver and cause most hepatitis disease. These are known as hepatotropic viruses, or more commonly, the hepatitis viruses. Other viruses might also cause liver inflammation, but they are usually only considered if no evidence of infection from the other five are found.

2. Autoimmune Hepatitis

Autoimmune disorders are mean the body's immune system starts fighting against itself in certain areas. There are several kinds of these diseases (rheumatoid arthritis and lupus are well-known autoimmune diseases) including a few specific to the liver that create chronic inflammation. These diseases aren't completely preventable because genetics are involved, which means some people are predisposed (genetically likely) to develop the disease based on their DNA.

3. Drug-Induced Hepatitis

Prescribed drugs are beneficial if taken correctly, but can be dangerous to the liver if taken carelessly. This is because many drugs are metabolized (broken down) in the liver and it's possible to get too much of a good thing. Since the liver can safely metabolize a certain amount of a drug (and probably most toxins), going over that safe amount causes the liver problems and inflammation develops. Sometimes the effects of the overdose can be reversed, but sometimes the toxic assault on the liver is too great and permanent liver damage happens.

4. Alcoholic Hepatitis

Drinking large amounts of alcohol (beer, wine, spirits) for prolonged periods of time is harmful to the liver and can lead to liver inflammation called alcoholic hepatitis. This disease has several progressive stages, but all of the early damage can be reversed if alcohol is avoided. However, if untreated, this type of hepatitis will lead to fibrosis and cirrhosis which are, essentially, irreversible. Early detection and treatment is necessary for the best outcome.

5. Chronic Hepatitis

Chronic hepatitis can be thought of as having inflammation that lasts for six months or longer caused by any of the above types. The distinction is necessary because the treatments and prognosis (how someone will recover) are often very different between the types of acute and chronic hepatitis. Still, the goal remains the same: Control the liver inflammation so that fibrosis and cirrhosis can be prevented.

6. Other Causses

Other causes of endstage liver disease that can lead to liver inflammation include nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), primary biliary cirrhosis, primary sclerosing cholangitis and genetic disorders such as hereditary hemochromatosis and alpha-1-AT.
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