liver diseases manifold. Some liver diseases are chronic hepatitis, cirrhosis, alcoholic liver disease (ALD), non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), liver abscess, liver tumours, and acute viral hepatitis (A, B, C, D, E). Hepatitis C is the most common cause of chronic hepatitis in Punjab, but over the past few years, medical science had achieved tremendous progress in its treatment.
The treatment of Hepatitis C is now affordable, short, and effective in curing the disease in more than 95% cases. Hepatitis B Virus (HBV) or Hepatitis C Virus (HCV) infection can cause serious health problems including liver damage, liver cancer, and liver failure, which may necessitate a liver transplant, or result in untimely death. An estimated 57% cases of liver cirrhosis and 78% cases of primary liver cancer result from HBV or HCV infection, if left untreated. Unfortunately, the vaccination for Hepatitis C is not available, but for Hepatitis B, it is available.
Besides Viral Hepatitis, NAFLD — commonly referred to as Fatty Liver — is becoming increasingly prevalent in today’s generation. NAFLD is the deposition of extra fat in liver cells not caused by alcohol. There is a tendency among people who are overweight, obese, have diabetes, high cholesterol, high triglycerides, or polycystic ovary Disease (PCOD) to develop NAFLD. Rapid weight loss and poor eating habits may also lead to it. The more severe form of NAFLD is called non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH). NASH causes liver cells to swell and may lead to liver scarring (cirrhosis).
Risk factors for developing NASH are obesity, diabetes, high cholesterol and/or high triglycerides levels. However, some people have NASH even if they do not have any risk factors. NAFLD often has no symptoms, and people can have NAFLD for years before the symptoms appear. Now, NAFLD is one of the leading causes of cirrhosis in adults globally. Appropriate low-fat diet, weight loss, diabetes control, cholesterol/triglyceride control are important both for treatment, and prevention of disease progression from mild fatty liver to a more severe form of NASH.
In another talk on the occasion, Dr Nitin Shanker Behl, head of gastroenterology department at Fortis hospital Ludhiana, highlighted the fact that Punjab was the capital of Hepatitis C in India. In an interactive session involving 50 village sarpanches, he highlighted the need for screening people living in these villages, and treatment of those affected.
He said Hepatitis C was primarily caused by factors like unscreened blood during transfusions, unsafe surgical practices, and unsafe therapeutic injections. However, in Punjab, the main cause was sharing of infected needles by intravenous drug users. Most people contract it when using drug equipment and unsterile tattoos and piercing practices.
Other risk factors include receiving medical, dental, or personal services using contaminated equipment. The need for serious action along the lines of drug-free Punjab movement was shared with village heads. He said: “Advances in medicine have led to an improved cure with fewer side-effects, meaning people with Hepatitis C have a 98% chance of being cured after eight to 12 weeks on medication. Not getting treatment however, can lead to more serious illnesses, such as cirrhosis of the liver or cancer.”
A special seminar was organized by the district health team to observe Hepatitis Day on Saturday at Civil Hospital of Koom Kalan here. A team of health experts gave an awareness speech to villagers, asking them to avoid oily, junk food. Speaking on the occasion, senior medical officer RP Bhatia stated: “The state health ministry has run a Hepatitis C Relief Fund Scheme for patients suffering from hepatitis. Under this scheme, patients can avail the benefit of free treatment at any civil hospital of the state.”
Health officials appealed to people not to ignore symptoms of Hepatitis C — vomiting, dark urine, abdominal pain, loss of appetite, unexplained weight loss, yellow skin and eyes — and take a doctor’s help on priority to overcome complications.
PREVENTING LIVER DAMAGE
* Maintain normal weight
* Eat a balanced diet
* Do regular exercise for at least 30 minutes, and aerobics five times a week
* Avoid drinking alcohol and using illicit drugs
* Avoid contaminated needles
* Get medical care if exposed to contaminated blood
* Get vaccinated for Hep A & B
* Do not share personal hygiene items like razors, toothbrushes, and nail clippers
* Wash your hands frequently, especially before consuming meals
* Do not consume more than the recommended dose of acetaminophen or other non-prescription medications
* Follow your doctor’s prescribing instructions carefully
* Inform your physician of the drugs and supplements you are currently taking