About Toxic Hepatitis
Toxic hepatitis occurs as a response to exposure to certain toxic chemicals, including but not limited to alcohol, drugs, medications, supplements, and industrial or household chemicals. Toxic hepatitis can develop within hours, days, or months of exposure to the toxin. Toxins that affect the liver are termed hepatotoxins.
Why it is Problematic
Often symptoms of toxic hepatitis subside once exposure to the toxin is eliminated. Toxic hepatitis can cause permanent damage to the liver through cirrhosis(scarring) and liver failure.
Causes and Risk Factors
Toxic hepatitis is always caused by excessive exposure to a toxic substance. Toxic substances include:
- Alcohol. Heavy drinking over a period of many years can render alcoholic beverages toxic.
- Antibacterial cleaners. Those products containing triclosan can cause liver damage through skin absorption.
- Carpet and upholstery cleaners. Those products containing perchloroethylene are known to cause liver damage.
- Drain cleaners and toilet cleaners. Those products containing hydrochloric acid or trichloroethane are unsafe.
- Herbs and supplements. Some herbs, although natural, have been known to cause liver damage. These include comfrey, cascara, chaparral, and ephedra.
- Industrial cleaners. Workplace exposure to chemicals such as tetrachloride (used as a dry cleaning solvent), vinyl chloride (used to make plastics), paraquat herbicide, and
polychlorinated biphenyls is to be avoided.
- Over-the-counter medications. OTCs, especially acetaminophen, must be taken only as directed. Overexposure to OTCs can cause liver failure. Never take any medications with alcohol.
- Prescription medications. There are many prescription drugs that have been linked to liver injury, including some antibacterials, antibiotics, antivirals, and anabolic steroids.
The presence of other liver conditions increases the risk of developing toxic hepatitis.
Aging is a risk factor in toxic hepatitis,as the liver breaks down toxins more slowly with time.
Alcohol, especially when taken with medication, increasesthe risk of toxic hepatitis.
Females are more likely than males to suffer from liver toxicity.
Certain genetic conditions can affect liver enzyme production.
Symptoms of toxic hepatitis include:
- Dark urine
- Weight loss
- Abdominal pain in the upper right quadrant
- Nausea and vomiting
A diagnosis of toxic hepatitis is made through physical exam, a report of medical history, blood tests to investigate liver enzymes and liver function, and imaging tests such as - ultrasound or CT scan to check for abnormalities.
A liver biopsy may be used to help confirm diagnosis.
Treatment and Prevention
Exposure to the contributing toxin must stop. Take medication only as directed and never with alcohol. Be conscious that herbs and supplements can cause liver damage. Take extra precautions when around chemicals: be sure to use a mask and cover as much of your skin as possible. Toxins that are inhaled or absorbed through the skin will still effect the liver. Keep all toxins away from children.
In severe cases of toxic hepatitis a liver transplant may be necessary.