What is Toxic Hepatitis?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Toxic hepatitis is an acute inflammation of the liver caused by exposure to a hepatotoxic compound, a chemical known to damage the liver. It can be accidental, as seen when patients develop liver inflammation while on medications, or deliberately induced in cases of attempted suicide. Hepatotoxicity, as it is also known, may also be the result of exposure to toxic chemicals like compounds used in pest control or chemicals involved in industrial processes.

Exposure to toxic chemicals may cause hepatotoxicity.
Exposure to toxic chemicals may cause hepatotoxicity.

People with toxic hepatitis can develop symptoms like abdominal pain, vomiting, dark urine, headache, and fatigue. Diarrhea and changes in stool color also are common, the result of changes to the metabolism caused by the failing liver. Patients may also experience jaundice, where the skin and eyes turn yellowish as a result of buildups of compounds normally processed by the liver.

Intravenous fluids and medications may be used to treat toxic hepatitis.
Intravenous fluids and medications may be used to treat toxic hepatitis.

The immediate treatment for toxic hepatitis is to stop the exposure to the toxin, by getting the patient out of a hazardous environment, stopping treatment with a drug, and so forth. It may also be possible to administer drugs to counteract the effects of the toxin in the body, depending on what is causing the toxic hepatitis. The patient also needs to rest, and may need supportive care in a hospital, where intravenous fluids and other measures can be provided.

The liver is a remarkably durable, adaptable organ. With supportive care, the patient's condition may improve and the liver can recover. In some cases, however, the damage is so extensive that the liver cannot recover from the toxic hepatitis. These patients may need liver transplants to survive. A transplant committee will review the case to see if the patient is a good candidate and to make a decision on whether to list the patient. Patients who develop toxic hepatitis as a result of a suicide attempt may be barred from receiving donor organs for transplant, depending on transplant policies, unless a directed donation is made available.

After a bout of toxic hepatitis, the liver can be fragile. The patient may need to observe dietary precautions and must avoid straining the liver with medications and alcohol. Periodic evaluations can be conducted to check on liver health and determine when the patient is fully recovered. In cases where toxic hepatitis is a result of occupational exposure, patients may be eligible for payouts from their employers to cover medical expenses and the time they were unable to work due to hospitalization and extreme illness. Employees can also be held liable for damages if the occupational exposure was the result of negligence.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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