What are the causes of liver disease (hepatitis and others)?
The term "hepatitis" means inflammation, and liver cells can become inflamed because of infection.
Hepatitis A is a viral infection that is spread primarily through the fecal-oral route when small amounts of infected fecal matter are inadvertently ingested. Hepatitis A causes an acute inflammation of the liver which generally resolves spontaneously. The hepatitis A vaccine can prevent this infection. Thorough hand washing, especially when preparing food is the best way to prevent the spread of hepatitis A. This is especially important for workers who work in the food and restaurant industries.
Hepatitis B is spread by exposure to body fluids (needles from drug abusers, contaminated blood, and sexual contact) and can cause an acute infection, but can also progress to cause chronic inflammation (chronic hepatitis) that can lead to cirrhosis and liver cancer. The hepatitis B vaccine can prevent this infection.
Hepatitis C causes chronic hepatitis. An infected individual may not recall any acute illness. Hepatitis C is spread by exposure to body fluids (needles from drug abusers, contaminated blood, and some forms of sexual contact). Chronic hepatitis C may lead to cirrhosis and liver cancer. At present, there is no vaccine against this virus. There is a recommendation to test all people born between 1945 and 1965 for Hepatitis C antibody to identify people who do not know that they have contracted the disease. Newer medications are now available to treat and potentially cure Hepatitis C.
Hepatitis D is a virus that requires concomitant infection with hepatitis B to survive, and is spread via body fluid exposure (needles from drug abusers, contaminated blood, and sexual contact).
Hepatitis E is a virus that is spread via exposure to contaminated food and water.
Other viruses can also cause liver inflammation or hepatitis as part of the cluster of symptoms. Viral infections with infectious mononucleosis (Epstein Barr virus), adenovirus, and cytomegalovirus can inflame the liver. Non-viral infections such as toxoplasmosis and Rocky Mountain spotted fever are less common causes.
Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease
NASH or non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (also referred to as "fatty liver") describes the accumulation of fat within the liver that can cause inflammation of the liver and a gradual decrease in liver function.
Hemachromatosis (iron overload) is a metabolic disorder that leads to abnormally elevated iron stores in the body. The excess iron may accumulate in the tissues of the liver, pancreas, and heart and can lead to inflammation, cirrhosis, liver cancer, and liver failure. Hemachromatosis is an inherited disease.
Wilson's disease is another inherited disease that affects the body's ability to metabolize copper. Wilson's disease may lead to cirrhosis and liver failure.
In Gilbert's disease, there is an abnormality in bilirubin metabolism in the liver. It is a common disease that affects up to 7% of the North American population. There are no symptoms and it is usually diagnosed incidentally when an elevated bilirubin level is found on routine blood tests. Gilbert's disease is a benign condition and requires no treatment.