What Happens If You Have Hepatitis?

Medically Reviewed on 6/9/2022
Some people with hepatitis do not show any symptoms and are unaware of their infection.

Hepatitis is a term used to describe inflammation or swelling of the liver that occurs when liver tissues are injured or infected. It can be caused by several viruses (viral hepatitis), chemicals, drugs, alcohol, certain genetic disorders, or an overactive immune system (autoimmune conditions) that could damage the liver. This swelling and damage can affect how well the liver functions.

Hepatitis can be acute, which flares up suddenly and then goes away, or chronic, which is a long-term condition with progressive symptoms. Some types of hepatitis viruses cause only acute infections, whereas other types can cause both acute and chronic infections.

Chronic liver infection and inflammation could damage the liver parenchyma (tissue) and lead to complications such as cirrhosis (scarring of the liver), liver failure, and liver cancer. Thus, it is extremely vital for early diagnosis and treatment of chronic hepatitis to prevent these complications.

4 causes of hepatitis

Types of hepatitis come with different causes, which include:

  1. Viral hepatitis is the most common of all types and is caused by one of several viruses including hepatitis viruses A, B, C, D, and E. 
  2. Alcoholic hepatitis is caused by excessive alcohol use.
  3. Toxic hepatitis can be due to certain poisons, chemicals, medicines, or supplements.
  4. Autoimmune hepatitis is a chronic type. In this, the body's immune system attacks and causes damage to the liver.

How is viral hepatitis spread?

Hepatitis A and E usually get transmitted through contact with food or water that was contaminated with an infected person's stool. Moreover, one may get hepatitis E by consuming undercooked pork, deer, or shellfish.

Hepatitis B, C, and D spread through blood transfusion with someone who has the disease. Hepatitis B and D may spread through contact with other body fluids in situations such as sharing drug needles or having unprotected sex.

Who is at a risk of hepatitis?

Risks vary between the types of hepatitis. For example, with most of the viral types, the risk of infection is higher if a person is involved in unprotected sex, sharing needles, or consuming contaminated food or water. People who drink too much alcohol over long periods are at an increased risk of alcoholic hepatitis.

9 symptoms of hepatitis

Some people with hepatitis do not show any symptoms and are unaware of their infection. If the patient does exhibit symptoms, they may include:

  1. Fever
  2. Fatigue
  3. Loss of appetite
  4. Nausea and/or vomiting
  5. Abdominal pain
  6. Dark urine
  7. Clay-colored bowel movements
  8. Joint pain
  9. Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes)

In acute infection, symptoms may show up anywhere between two weeks to six months after the infection. In chronic infection, symptoms do not show up until many years later.


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How is hepatitis diagnosed?

To diagnose hepatitis, the healthcare provider may perform the following methods:

  • Complete medical history 
  • Physical exam
  • Blood tests, including tests for viral hepatitis
  • Imaging tests such as an ultrasound, computed tomography scan, or magnetic resonance imaging
  • Liver biopsy for a clear diagnosis and to check for liver damage

What treatments are available for hepatitis?

Treatment mainly depends on the type and course of hepatitis. Acute viral hepatitis may go away on its own. Rest and enough fluids are recommended for symptomatic relief. However, in serious cases, patients may require treatment in a hospital.

Different medicines are available to treat various chronic types of hepatitis. Other possible treatments may include surgery and other medical procedures.

People who have alcoholic hepatitis may need to give up drinking. In cases of liver failure or liver cancer, a liver transplant is needed.

Can hepatitis be prevented?

There are different ways to prevent or lower the risk of hepatitis, depending on its type. Not drinking too much alcohol can prevent alcoholic hepatitis. Vaccinations are now available to prevent hepatitis A and B. However, autoimmune hepatitis cannot be prevented.

Medically Reviewed on 6/9/2022
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