“Doctor I have jaundice” is a common presentation in OPD. It evokes many different responses from the patient and their families, from severe anxiety to running from allopath to homeopath to naturopath, from Sugarcane juice to avoiding all things yellow! When some doctor mentions hepatitis they are even more scared.
“Hepatitis” means inflammation of the liver and can be caused by many different things. Jaundice or yellow color of eyes is just a symptom of hepatitis. Hepatitis can vary from mild or simple self-limiting diseases to life-threatening and serious diseases. It should always be evaluated by a doctor for that reason. The commonest causes of jaundice are Hepatitis A or Hepatitis E virus, both of which are transmitted through infected food and water. These diseases peak during summer and monsoon months. They are usually mild but in a small percentage of cases, can cause liver failure and death. Prevention is obviously by consuming clean and hygienic water and food.
The other common cause, which is sadly increasing in society now, is Alcoholic hepatitis. This is a serious condition and seen usually in patients who drink regularly or excessively. It has a high risk of liver failure and death. We strongly recommend that people should either not drink alcohol at all, or drink small amounts infrequently.
Another common cause of hepatitis is viruses like Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C, which are transmitted by blood or blood products which have not been screened properly, by sexual transmission, and also from mother to child at the time of birth. They cause slow progressive damage to the liver, resulting in cirrhosis of the liver, Liver failure and increased risk of Liver cancer. Hepatitis B is present in an inactive or active form in 3-5% of Indians and Hepatitis C in 1% of Indians. There is an effective vaccine available for Hepatitis B and Hepatitis A, but not for other viruses.
Another rapidly rising cause of hepatitis is Non-Alcoholic Fatty liver disease. It is more common with Obesity, Diabetes, High cholesterol and lipids, and people who are not physically active. It also leads to slow damage to liver resulting in cirrhosis and liver failure over 15 – 20 years. The remedy again is prevention – low carbohydrate, low-fat diet, and very regular exercise.
Many drugs including allopathic, ayurvedic and homeopathic drugs also cause hepatitis.
Jaundice can also be caused by causes other than hepatitis, mainly those causing obstruction to flow of bile, like stones in the bile duct, pancreatic and bile duct tumors etc.
If someone has any suspicion of jaundice or hepatitis or has abnormal liver function tests, he/she should see a doctor and be evaluated.