The liver may not be something we think about on a daily basis, but it's one of our vital organs. Hepatitis is a group of conditions that can harm the liver, and much like the organ itself, these conditions may be overlooked.
The month of May is being recognized as Hepatitis Awareness Month, and May 19 is Hepatitis Testing Day.
Organizers of these awareness events are urging better understanding of the diseases and encouraging certain populations to get tested, as the majority of those who have chronic infections are unaware.
Hepatitis includes a group of viral infections that cause inflammation of the liver, including hepatitis A, B and C — the most common types of hepatitis in the US.
According to the American Liver Foundation (ALF), hepatitis can also be caused by certain toxins, drugs and heavy use of alcohol.
Though each type of hepatitis is different, they are all associated with problems in the liver. Some forms can lead to lifelong issues and serious illness, including liver cancer and cirrhosis, or scarring of the liver.
In fact, according the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), hepatitis is both the most common cause of liver cancer and the most common reason for liver transplantation.
"An estimated 4.4 million Americans are living with chronic hepatitis; most do not know they are infected," says CDC.
Different Types of Hepatitis
In hepatitis A, the infection is spread by way of fecal matter, through person-to-person contact or contaminated food, says CDC. This form of hepatitis causes an infection that can last anywhere from a few weeks to several months — called an acute, or short-term, infection.
In hepatitis B, the infection is spread by way of infected bodily fluids, through sex, contaminated needles or from mother to newborn. The infection can either be acute or long-term and cause serious illness — called a chronic illness.
In hepatitis C, the infection is spread through infected blood, mostly through contaminated needles. Infection with hepatitis C is usually chronic in nature, and serious problems like liver cancer can occur.
The two remaining types — hepatitis D and E — are uncommon in the US. Hepatitis D is also spread through contact with infected blood and can cause serious liver disease. Hepatitis E, which is common in many other places around the globe, is spread through contaminated fecal matter and usually causes an acute infection.
Testing and Treatments
"Lifesaving care and treatments are available for chronic hepatitis, but getting tested is the only way to know if you are infected," explained CDC.
CDC recommends that anyone born between 1945 and 1965 get tested for hepatitis C, as this group is over five times more likely to have the infection, and most people with the infection are unaware of their status.
The longer hepatitis C patients live without treatment, the more likely it becomes that major liver problems will develop. Once a diagnosis is delivered, treatment can begin and work to protect the liver.
According to CDC, this treatment can differ from patient to patient, but may include antiviral medication, like interferon injections, or lifestyle changes, like avoiding alcohol and certain medications that can harm the liver.
In an interview with dailyRx News, Daniel Berarducci, MA, CPC, a Clinical Professional Counselor in Las Vegas, Nevada who works with patients with illnesses like HIV/AIDS and hepatitis C, explained that these patients should also consider their mental health.
"As with any medical concern, individuals who have been diagnosed or have been engaging in treatment for hepatitis can experience issues in relation to depression and anxiety," explained Berarducci. "Especially when such treatments, such as Interferon, may have side effects such as depression, consultation with your medical providers may be necessary in order to assist in the reduction of depression and anxiety concerns through counseling or psychotherapy.
"During this time, your mental health provider can assist in supporting your combined medical and mental health concerns through continued consultations with medical providers, education on potential side effects of various medications, and support in adjusting to this medical concern," said Berarducci.
"Often, one can feel alone in this process, which will then affect their personal relationships and understandings of self. Through the use of counseling or psychotherapy, your mental health provider and yourself will be able to explore the nature of continuing to communicate within personal relationships or potentially seeking support groups to assist you in this process," Berarducci told dailyRx News.