04 May 2007

Hepatitis C What it is

Hepatitis C

The word "hepatitis" means inflammation of the liver. The usual cause of hepatitis is infection by a virus. At least six viruses, usually identified by the letters A through G, are known to cause hepatitis. In the United States, hepatitis A, hepatitis B, and hepatitis C are the most common types. Rarely, some kinds of hepatitis are not caused by infection. These non-contagious types of hepatitis can result from alcohol abuse, certain drugs, ingestion of toxic substances, or autoimmune disease (the body's own immune system attacks the liver).

Typically, hepatitis B and hepatitis C infections have distinct phases. The first, or acute phase, occurs soon after infection with the hepatitis virus and lasts for 6 months or less. Many individuals recover from acute hepatitis, and their livers return to normal within a few months. Depending on the type of hepatitis, however, some of the individuals who contract acute hepatitis infections may not be able to eliminate the virus. For these individuals, the acute infection may be followed by a chronic phase. Usually, chronic hepatitis involves a prolonged latent or inactive period. During this time, which may last 20 years or longer, individuals with hepatitis probably do not experience symptoms or feel ill. Generally, however, the virus continues to multiply, gradually causing liver damage. Typically, symptoms do not become apparent until liver damage is extensive. However, abnormal levels of liver enzymes such as alanine aminotransferase (ALT) and aspartate aminotransferase (AST) may show if liver tests are done.

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