• We are sorry, but NCBI web applications do not support your browser and may not function properly. More information
Globally, about 170 million people are chronically infected with hepatitis C virus. Hepatitis C is a blood‐borne virus and routes of transmission include intravenous drug use, mother‐to‐infant transmission, unsafe medical practices, high‐risk sexual behaviour, and blood transfusion. Chronic hepatitis C is in most patients a benign viral infection, but a minority of patients develop liver cirrhosis... more

PubMed Health. A service of the National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health.

A.D.A.M. Medical Encyclopedia [Internet]. Atlanta (GA): A.D.A.M.; 2013.

A.D.A.M. Medical Encyclopedia.

Hepatitis

Last reviewed: October 14, 2013.

Hepatitis is swelling and inflammation of the liver.

Causes

Hepatitis can be caused by:

Liver disease can also be caused by inherited disorders such as cystic fibrosis or hemochromatosis, a condition that involves having too much iron in your body.

Other causes include Wilson's disease, a disorder in which the body to retains too much copper.

Symptoms

Hepatitis may start and get better quickly. It may also become a long-term condition. In some cases, hepatitis may lead to liver damage, liver failure, or even liver cancer.

How severe hepatitis is 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:

  • Pain or bloating in the belly area
  • Dark urine and pale or clay-colored stools
  • Fatigue
  • Low fever
  • Itching
  • Jaundice (yellowing of the skin or eyes)
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Weight loss

You may not have symptoms when first infected with hepatitis B or C. You can still develop liver failure later. If you have any risk factors for either type of hepatitis, you should be tested often.

Exams and Tests

You will have a physical exam to look for:

Your doctor may order lab tests to diagnose and monitor your condition, including:

  • Ultrasound of the abdomen
  • Autoimmune blood markers
  • Tests to diagnose Hepatitis A, B, or C
  • Liver function tests
  • Liver biopsy to check for liver damage
  • Paracentesis (if fluid is in your abdomen)

Treatment

Your doctor will talk to you about treatment options. Treatments will vary, depending on the cause of your liver disease. You may need to eat a high-calorie diet if you are losing weight.

Support Groups

There are support groups for people with all types of hepatitis. These groups can help you learn about the latest treatments and how to cope with having the disease.

Outlook (Prognosis)

The outlook for hepatitis will depend on what is causing the liver damage. 

Possible Complications

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Seek care immediately if you:

  • Have symptoms from too much acetaminophen or other medicines -- you may need to have your stomach pumped
  • Vomit blood
  • Have bloody or tarry stools
  • Are confused or delirious

Call your doctor if:

  • You have any symptoms of hepatitis or believe that you have been exposed to hepatitis A, B, or C.
  • You cannot keep food down due to excessive vomiting. You may need to receive nutrition through a vein (intravenously).
  • You feel sick and have travelled to Asia, Africa, South America, or Central America.

Prevention

Talk to your doctor about receiving a vaccine to prevent hepatitis A and hepatitis B.

Steps for preventing the spread of hepatitis B and C from one person to another include:

  • Avoid sharing personal items, such as razors or toothbrushes.
  • Do not share drug needles or other drug equipment (such as straws for snorting drugs).
  • Clean blood spills with a mixture of 1 part household bleach to 9 parts water.
  • Do not get tattoos or body piercings with instruments that have not been cleaned properly.

To reduce your risk of spreading or catching hepatitis A:

  • Always wash your hands well after using the restroom, and when you come in contact with an infected person's blood, stools, or other bodily fluid.
  • Avoid unclean food and water.

References

  1. Dienstag JL. Hepatitis B virus infection. N Engl J Med. 2008;359:1486-1500. [PubMed: 18832247]
  2. Jou JH, Muir AJ. In the clinic. Hepatitis C. Ann Intern Med. 2008;148:iTC6-1-ITC6-16. [PubMed: 18519925]
  3. Sjogren MH, Cheatham JG. Hepatitis A. In: Feldman M, Friedman LS, Brandt LJ, eds. Sleisenger & Fordtran's Gastrointestinal and Liver Disease. 9th ed. Philadelphia, Pa:Saunders Elsevier; 2010:chap 77.
  4. Pawlotsky JM, Mchutchison J. Chronic viral and autoimmune hepatitis. In: Goldman L, Ausiello D, eds. Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 151.

Review Date: 10/14/2013.

Reviewed by: George F. Longstreth, MD, Department of Gastroenterology, Kaiser Permanente Medical Care Program, San Diego, California. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Bethanne Black, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

A.D.A.M., Inc. is accredited by URAC, also known as the American Accreditation HealthCare Commission (www.urac.org). URAC's accreditation program is an independent audit to verify that A.D.A.M. follows rigorous standards of quality and accountability. A.D.A.M. is among the first to achieve this important distinction for online health information and services. Learn more about A.D.A.M.'s editorial policy, editorial process and privacy policy. A.D.A.M. is also a founding member of Hi-Ethics and subscribes to the principles of the Health on the Net Foundation (www.hon.ch).

The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only — they do not constitute endorsementscof those other sites. © 1997–2011 A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.

Copyright © 2013, A.D.A.M., Inc.

A.D.A.M., Inc. is accredited by URAC, also known as the American Accreditation HealthCare Commission (www.urac.org). URAC's accreditation program is an independent audit to verify that A.D.A.M. follows rigorous standards of quality and accountability. A.D.A.M. is among the first to achieve this important distinction for online health information and services. Learn more about A.D.A.M.'s editorial policy, editorial process and privacy policy. A.D.A.M. is also a founding member of Hi-Ethics and subscribes to the principles of the Health on the Net Foundation (www.hon.ch).

The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only — they do not constitute endorsementscof those other sites. © 1997–2011 A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.

Copyright © 2013, A.D.A.M., Inc.

What works?

  • Hepatitis A immunisation in persons not previously exposed to hepatitis AHepatitis A immunisation in persons not previously exposed to hepatitis A
    Hepatitis A is a common, contagious viral disease in many low‐income countries. It is estimated that world wide, around 1.5 million people are affected each year. The hepatitis A virus is limited to man and several species of non‐human primates. It is transmitted primarily by faecal‐oral spread from person to person, or through ingestion of contaminated food or water. Since 1995, hepatitis A vaccines have been used to prevent hepatitis A in people not yet exposed to the hepatitis A virus. Only three of the included trials were considered to be at low risk of bias; that is, free from overestimation of benefits and underestimation of harm due to systemic errors. In persons not previously exposed to hepatitis A infection, hepatitis A vaccination with inactivated or live attenuated hepatitis A vaccines had a clear effect on reducing the risk of developing clinically apparent hepatitis A. The review also found that hepatitis A vaccines significantly reduce the risk of lacking protective antibodies against hepatitis A. The inactivated vaccine appears to be relatively safe. There were insufficient data to draw any conclusions on production of protective antibodies and adverse events for live attenuated vaccines.
See all (97) ...

Figures

  • Hepatitis B virus.
    Hepatitis C.
    Gianotti-Crosti syndrome on the leg.
    Liver anatomy.

PubMed Health Blog...

read all...

MedlinePlus.gov links to free, reliable, up-to-date health information from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and other trusted health organizations.

Recent Activity

Your browsing activity is empty.

Activity recording is turned off.

Turn recording back on

See more...