What is viral hepatitis and how is it diagnosed?

Written by: Professor Patrick Kennedy
Published: | Updated: 18/09/2023
Edited by: Jay Staniland

Viral hepatitis is any inflammation of the liver caused by a specific virus. There are a number of viruses which can cause viral hepatitis from hepatitis A to hepatitis E, and the viruses can be contracted in different ways. Some variants of hepatitis have vaccines such as hepatitis A and hepatitis B. The more concerning types of viral hepatitis are those that cause chronic liver disease, namely hepatitis B and C and in some cases hepatitis D which can complicate hepatitis B.


How is hepatitis diagnosed?


Viral hepatitis is essentially diagnosed by abnormalities in the liver enzymes. Where abnormalities in the transaminases are seen and are confirmed by viral serology which will be able to identify the virus that is causing the viral hepatitis.

There are a number of investigations that could also be undertaken to investigate the hepatitis virus further outside of laboratory tests, such as ultrasound scans, FibroScans, and in some cases, liver biopsy.


Symptoms of hepatitis


With acute hepatitis, there are often no noticeable symptoms, however with chronic or long-term hepatitis, you may experience some or all of the following symptoms:

  • high temperature
  • muscle pain
  • joint pain
  • nausea
  • jaundice
  • exhaustion and feeling tired all of the time
  • loss of appetite
  • itching
  • dark urine, pale-coloured poo
  • stomach pain

If you are suffering with any of these symptoms, book an appointment with a consultant hepatologist to find the best course of action.

By Professor Patrick Kennedy
Hepatology (liver specialist)

Professor Patrick Kennedy is a leading London-based consultant physician and hepatologist, whose work in viral liver disease is known internationally.
Professor Kennedy trained at University College Dublin. Upon completion of his initial medical training, he undertook post-graduate training in London and was subsequently appointed as a senior lecturer at Barts and The London School of Medicine and Dentistry in 2009.

Professor Kennedy  has a special interest in the management of liver disease in young people, working closely with premiership football clubs and managing liver disease in professional sports people and elite athletes from the UK and abroad.
He has produced novel work redefining disease phase in chronic hepatitis B (CHB). The main focus of his curent research work is around broadening treatment candidacy and the development of individualised treatment strategies for viral liver disease. He is widely published in the field of hepatology, with over 200 publications and 90 peer-reviewed articles, in addition to multiple book chapters, he has also edited a textbook of hepato-gastroenterology.
Additionally, Professor Kennedy is an expert advisor for the WHO and is part of the HBV clinical guideline development group. He is also a member of the European Association for the study of the liver (EASL) HBV clinical practice guidelines and has served as a member for NICE on the viral hepatitis clinical guideline committee.
Furthermore, Professor Kennedy provides expert opinion for the United Kingdom Advisory Panel (UKAP) on blood-borne viruses and is the current chair of the British Viral Hepatitis Group and former Lead for the British Association for the Study of the Liver (BASL) HBV special interest group. He works closely with industry and provides expert opinion on drug development programmes.
He is the principal Investigator for a number of investigator-led and commercial phase 1, 2 and 3, clinical trials of novel therapies in viral liver disease. At present, he leads studies on the development of novel therapies in HBV and hepatitis delta virus (HDV). In addition, he is passionate about patient education and ensuring patients play a central role in their own management. Professor Kennedy has developed HBV&Me, a management app, and a current area of his research is expanding the utility of patient management tools to improve care.

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