Hepatitis is swelling and inflammation of the liver. The term is often used to refer to a viral infection of the liver.
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 (the excess iron deposits in the liver).
Other causes include Wilson's disease (excess copper deposits in the body).
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.
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:
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 regularly.
You will have a physical exam to look for:
Your doctor may order laboratory tests to diagnose and monitor the hepatitis, including:
Your doctor will talk to you about treatment options. Treatments will vary depending on the cause of your liver disease. Your doctor may recommend a high-calorie diet if you are losing weight.
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.
The outlook for hepatitis will depend on what is causing the liver damage.
Other complications include:
Seek care immediately if you:
Call your doctor if:
Talk to your doctor about vaccination for hepatitis A and hepatitis B.
Lifestyle measures for preventing spread of hepatitis B and C from one person to another include:
To reduce your risk of spreading or catching hepatitis A:
Reviewed By: David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine; and George F. Longstreth, MD, Department of Gastroenterology, Kaiser Permanente Medical Care Program, San Diego, California. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.