Physician Focus: Hepatitis: Silent Disease

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It takes different forms, has multiple causes, and many people who have it don’t know they have it. It is hepatitis, a major cause of cirrhosis and liver cancer and a leading cause of death by infection, claiming some 15,000 lives every year. It’s the topic of discussion for the November episode of Physician Focus with the Massachusetts Medical Society.

Most patients may identify hepatitis as an infectious disease, and it is indeed that. But that’s only one aspect of the condition. “The term hepatitis,” says Albert Crimaldi, M.D., Ph.D., “simply describes an inflammation of the liver. It does not always connote a viral infection. There are a lot of agents that can cause liver inflammation, or hepatitis, not just viruses.”

Dr. Crimaldi, a gastroenterologist at Milford Regional Medical Center, joins his associate, Maggie Ham, M.D., also of Milford Regional Medical Center, and program host and primary care physician Bruce Karlin, M.D. to provide an introduction to hepatitis, discussing the causes, types, prevention, and treatment of this disease.

Understanding hepatitis can be confusing for patients. There’s a vaccine for some types, but not for others. The disease can be acute or chronic, viral or non-viral, and some acute forms can become chronic. One form can result from a poor diet. Some types will clear the body by itself; some will require medication. And many times, patients won’t even know they have the disease.

The conversation includes a focus on two of the most common forms of the disease: hepatitis C, estimated to affect more than three million Americans, and NASH, nonalcoholic steatohepatitis, or fatty liver disease, a condition becoming more prevalent as obesity rates remain high.

If you’re a baby boomer – born between 1945-1965 – this program may carry particular interest. More than 75 percent of those infected with hepatitis C, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, are in this group, and most do not know they have the disease.

I invite you to join us this month on Physician Focus, to gain a better understanding of a widespread and growing condition.

Caption: From left, Bruce Karlin, M.D., Maggie Ham, M.D., Albert Crimaldi, M.D., this month on Physician Focus.