Hepatitis (patient information)
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Hepatitis On the Web
Hepatitis is an inflammation, with swelling, of the liver, most commonly caused by a viral infection. There are five main hepatitis viruses, referred to as types A, B, C, D, and E. These five types are of greatest concern because of the burden of illness and death they cause and the potential for outbreaks and epidemic spread. In particular, types B and C lead to chronic disease in hundreds of millions of people and, together, are the most common cause of liver cirrhosis and cancer.
Hepatitis A and E are typically caused by ingestion of contaminated food or water. Hepatitis B, C and D usually occur as a result of parenteral contact with infected body fluids. Common modes of transmission for these viruses include receipt of contaminated blood or blood products, invasive medical procedures using contaminated equipment and for hepatitis B transmission from mother to baby at birth, from family member to child, and also by sexual contact.
Drinking alcohol or taking drugs (whether legal, illegal or prescription) can also cause other types of hepatitis.
What are the symptoms of Hepatitis ?
Hepatitis may start and get better quickly (acute hepatitis), or cause long-term disease (chronic hepatitis). In some instances, it may lead to liver damage, liver failure, or even liver cancer. The severity of hepatitis depends on many factors, including the cause of the liver damage and any illnesses you have. Hepatitis A, for example, is usually short-term and does not lead to chronic liver problems. The symptoms of hepatitis include:
- Abdominal pain or distention
- Breast development in males
- Dark urine and pale or clay-colored stools
- Fever, usually low-grade
- General itching
- Jaundice (yellowing of the skin or eyes)
- Loss of appetite
- Nausea and vomiting
- Weight loss
Many people with hepatitis B or C do not have symptoms when they are first infected. They can still develop liver failure later. If you have any risk factors for either type of hepatitis, you should be tested regularly.
What causes Hepatitis ?
Hepatitis can be caused by:
- Immune cells in the body attacking the liver and causing autoimmune hepatitis
- Infections from viruses (such as hepatitis A, B, or C), bacteria, or parasites
- Liver damage from alcohol, poisonous mushrooms, or other poisons
- Medications, such as an overdose of acetaminophen, which can be deadly
Hepatitis is most often caused by one of several viruses, which is why it is often called viral hepatitis. The most common types of viral hepatitis in the United States are hepatitis A, hepatitis B, and hepatitis C. Liver disease can also be caused by inherited disorders such as cystic fibrosis, Wilson's disease or hemochromatosis, a condition that involves having too much iron in your body (the excess iron deposits in the liver).
- Hepatitis A
- Hepatitis B
- Hepatitis C
- Hepatitis D
- Hepatitis E
- Drug-induced hepatitis
- Autoimmune hepatitis
- Alcoholic hepatitis
Who is at highest risk?
When to seek urgent medical care?
You should seek your healthcare provider if you experience some of the symptoms described above.
Your doctor will discuss possible treatments with you, depending on the cause of your liver disease.
A physical examination may show:
- Enlarged and tender liver
- Fluid in the abdomen (ascites) that can become infected
- Yellowing of the skin (Jaundice)
- Abdominal ultrasound
- Autoimmune blood markers
- Hepatitis virus serologies
- Liver function tests, such as:
Your doctor will discuss possible treatments with you, depending on the cause of your liver disease. Your doctor may recommend a high-calorie diet if you are losing weight. For more information about the causes and risk factors for different types of hepatitis, see also:
Where to find medical care for Hepatitis ?
What to expect (Outlook/Prognosis)?
- Liver cancer
- Liver failure
- Permanent liver damage, called cirrhosis
- Esophageal varices that can bleed
- Spontaneous bacterial peritonitis (fluid in the abdomen that becomes infected)