General Information

Hepatitis (inflammation of the liver)

Hepatitis is also often called jaundice. This is misleading because the yellowing of the skin is merely one of many symptoms of the disease, which does not occur with every form of hepatitis and can also be observed in the case of other diseases.

Causes of hepatitis

  • In industrialized countries the various forms of hepatitis are most commonly caused by excessive alcohol consumption.
  • The second most common cause of hepatitis is as the result of an infection with a hepatitis virus.
  • An increasingly frequent cause of inflammation of the liver is fatty deposits caused by being overweight or having a poor diet.

For all types of hepatitis, the following applies: Hepatitis viruses need the cells of the human liver as their host.

Progression forms of viral hepatitis

  • Acute infection often develops unnoticed, or may be associated with exhaustion, nausea, vomting and pain in the right upper abdomen.
  • Chronic infection persists over many years and can lead to cirrhosis of the liver; the liver forms scar tissue to replace dead liver tissue (with increasing impairment of liver function), or liver cancer (carcinoma of the liver cells) may develop.
  • Advanced cirrhosis of the liver means severe disruption of liver function, and can result in disease patterns with very wide-ranging symptoms.

Detection of viral infections

In cases of suspected viral hepatitis the treating physician will initially make a simple primary diagnosis. This will include a blood test for the detection of antibodies, which the immune system has formed in response to the virus and/or the direct detection of viral components.

Who should be tested for hepatitis?

  • In general, hepatitis tests should be conducted on anyone exhibiting possible symptoms of the disease, such as yellowing of the skin, fatigue, and nausea.
  • The infection rates for hepatitis diseases are high among drug users. The earlier an infection is discovered and treated, the better the chances of recovery.

Each drug user should be tested for hepatitis A, B and C, and in the case of negative results and ongoing risky behaviour, each drug user should be screened once annually (screening for antibodies). The tests can be used to detect the various categories of antibodies.