Chronic hepatitis: causes, symptoms, treatment

Digestion is one of the liver’s most important functions. The liver makes bile, which is stored in the gallbladder. The liver also has other important functions. The liver, using products of digestion, makes new substances such as proteins and fats. The liver can become inflamed: hepatitis. Liver inflammation can be acute or chronic. What are the causes and symptoms of chronic hepatitis? How is the diagnosis made and what options are there to treat chronic liver inflammation?

Article content

  • Acute and chronic hepatitis
  • Chronic hepatitis
  • Causes of chronic hepatitis
  • Symptoms of chronic hepatitis
  • Diagnosis of chronic hepatitis
  • Treatment of chronic hepatitis
  • Chronic hepatitis prognosis


Acute and chronic hepatitis

Hepatitis can be acute or chronic. Acute hepatitis is a sudden, short-term inflammation of the liver with various causes. Usually the cause is infection with one of several hepatitis viruses. Chronic hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver due to various causes that lasts longer than six months.

Chronic hepatitis

Chronic hepatitis is inflammation of the liver due to various causes. It is an inflammation of the liver that lasts longer than six months, sometimes the condition lasts for years. The complaints are often not serious, but the liver can be slowly damaged, causing liver cirrhosis. In liver cirrhosis, a large amount of liver tissue is replaced by connective tissue, causing the function of the liver to deteriorate further. Ultimately it will lead to liver failure. People with chronic hepatitis and cirrhosis are more likely to develop liver cancer.

Causes of chronic hepatitis

Chronic hepatitis can be caused by:

  • A viral infection;
  • An autoimmune reaction: the body’s immune system attacks liver cells, it is not known why, it is more common in women than in men;
  • Certain medicines: for example anti-tuberculosis medicines;
  • Excessive use of liquor;
  • Certain metabolic disorders: for example hemochromatosis;
  • The hepatitis C, B and D viruses may be responsible for chronic hepatitis;
  • The most infamous is the hepatitis C virus.


Symptoms of chronic hepatitis

Sometimes chronic hepatitis does not cause any symptoms. If they are present, they can vary from light to heavy:

  • The appetite decreases, this leads to weight loss;
  • A tired feeling;
  • Stomach ache;
  • The skin turns yellow;
  • Whites of eyes turn yellow;
  • The abdomen swells.

If there is cirrhosis, high blood pressure can develop in the blood vessels that connect the digestive system to the liver. The pressure can lead to bleeding in the digestive tract. Liver cirrhosis can lead to liver failure and worse.

Diagnosis of chronic hepatitis

The doctor will perform a physical examination and a blood test to check the function of the liver. The cause of the hepatitis must also be investigated. An ultrasound scan can be performed to confirm the diagnosis. A liver biopsy can be done to see how bad the damage is.

Treatment of chronic hepatitis

  • If the hepatitis B or C virus is the cause, it can be treated with antiviral medications. To ensure that the infection does not return, the medications often have to be administered for a long time. It is very important to pay attention to the side effects, which can be serious. The person’s health must be monitored very closely.
  • If an autoimmune reaction is the cause, a person usually needs to be treated with corticosteroids for the rest of their life. Sometimes together with medications that suppress the immune system.
  • If a drug is the cause of chronic hepatitis, there is usually a slow recovery when the drug is stopped.
  • If a metabolic disorder is the cause, it must be treated. The damage to the liver will be slowed down.


Chronic hepatitis prognosis

The prognosis depends on the cause of the chronic hepatitis. With chronic viral hepatitis it can take a very long time before problems such as cirrhosis and liver failure occur. People with chronic hepatitis are more likely to develop liver cancer, especially with hepatitis B or C virus. If chronic hepatitis caused by an autoimmune reaction is not treated, one in two people will develop liver failure after five years. If a metabolic disorder is the cause, it will slowly get worse and often end with liver failure. In that case, it can be examined whether a liver transplant is possible.

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  • Hepatitis: causes, symptoms, diagnosis and treatment
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