What is Hepatitis
The word “hepatitis” means inflammation of the liver, which is the body’s normal response to infection and toxic stimuli. The liver defends itself by trying to destroy or seal off viruses, damaged liver tissue or dangerous substances such as chemicals including alcohol and other drugs. This inflammatory response can protect against an infection or substance but may also cause damage in itself. Hepatitis can be caused by a number of factors.
Viral hepatitis can be caused by any of the hepatitis viruses identified as A, B, C, D, and E. These are discussed in more detail in the following sections.
A virus is a micro-organism with a simple structure of genetic material (DNA or RNA) and a protective coat of protein. In order to reproduce a virus must be inside living cells. It can then reproduce using the machinery of the cell to make more virus particles, disrupting the normal role of the cell and sometimes destroying the cell in the process.
Alcohol or other drug related hepatitis occurs when substances are consumed in quantities large enough to cause poisoning (this varies between individuals). The liver is involved in a number of body’s functions, including detoxification, digestion and metabolism, making it a primary target for alcohol-related harm. Alcoholic drinks contain ample calories but little nutrition, which may result in under nourishment for people who consume excess alcohol. Researchers suspect both alcohol and poor nutrition are involved in the onset of alcoholic hepatitis. Prolonged exposure to some chemical agents can also produce a similar response. This includes some prescribed medications if taken at high dosages.
Autoimmune hepatitis is a disorder of immune regulation, resulting in a destructive response of T-cells on the liver. There is a genetic predisposition to this form of hepatitis, as well as associations with other autoimmune disorders such as thyroid disease, autoimmune diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis. Damaged liver tissue, gall bladder or pancreatic problems as well as other infections can also cause inflammation of the liver.