Hepatitis is a condition that causes inflammation of the liver. Your liver is an organ that helps your body get nutrients from food, cleans your blood and keeps infections away. Some types of hepatitis can stop your liver from functioning properly.
There are five different types of hepatitis caused by viruses: Hepatitis A, B, C, D and E. Hepatitis A, hepatitis B and hepatitis C are most common in the United States. You can get infected with the different types of hepatitis in different ways:
There are also a few other types of hepatitis:
Hepatitis or liver inflammation usually is asymptomatic (without symptoms), but in some instances patients may experience some of the following symptoms:
Some people with hepatitis may have no symptoms for many years. So, it’s important to know if you are at high risk. Your risk is higher - for viral hepatitis C, in particular - if you:
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), everyone 18 or older should be screened at least once for hepatitis C.
If you have symptoms of hepatitis or you’re at risk for the disease, your doctor or health care provider may recommend different tests. If you do have hepatitis, your provider can figure out what type, how severe it is, and what treatment plan should work best for you.
The process for diagnosing hepatitis isn’t the same for everyone. Your health care provider will recommend tests based on your symptoms, medical history and risk factors.
Diagnosing hepatitis can include:
It’s essential to work closely with your health care provider to come up with a treatment plan that’s best for you. Your provider will recommend one or more of these treatment options based on the type of hepatitis you have (for example viral hepatitis A, B, C, D or E) and whether it is acute or chronic:
Most people recover from hepatitis A in six months or less without specific treatment. You can manage symptoms by getting plenty of rest, staying hydrated and taking over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers.
Hepatitis A can be more serious in older people and people with other liver problems. If you develop complications, you might need treatment in a hospital.
Hepatitis B is common in Africa and Asia, so your provider may want to test you for it if you have lived in those areas. You might not need treatment for acute hepatitis B.
For chronic hepatitis B, you may need long-term treatment. Your doctor may want you to take antiviral medications (entecavir, tenofovir, rarely interferon). These medications can help keep the virus from multiplying and stop your liver from becoming inflamed.
If you take antiviral medications, your doctor will check your liver function and the amount of virus regularly to make sure the treatment is working.
If you have chronic viral hepatitis C, you can take direct-acting antiviral (DAA) medications, which cure hepatitis C 95% of the time. Most people take them for 8 to 12 weeks. Your doctor will want to check your liver function and the amount of virus during and after your treatment.
This type of hepatitis is unusual since it only happens in people who already have hepatitis B. There aren’t that many treatment options for hepatitis D. Your doctor might recommend antiviral medications that are used for hepatitis B or interferon-alpha injections. If you have hepatitis D, it’s a good idea to see a provider who specializes in treating it.
Most people don’t need treatment for hepatitis E. It usually clears up in four to eight weeks. If you have other types of chronic liver disease or a weakened immune system, you might need medical care or treatment in a hospital.
Some patients who drink too much alcohol can develop a form of hepatitis. In this case, the only treatment is to stop drinking alcohol (abstinence) and follow a special diet. If they don’t, they may develop severe symptoms, including bloating (fluid retention), confusion and internal bleeding. These patients may also need to work with an addiction specialist.
Some patients are at high risk of getting extra fat in their liver. This may be because of obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure and/or high cholesterol. This extra fat in the liver can lead to inflammation and scarring (cirrhosis, when scarring is severe) and, eventually, liver failure.
Treating the condition that led to the extra fat is the treatment for fatty liver. Exercise and getting to a healthy weight are also very important.
In autoimmune hepatitis, the patient’s immune system mistakenly attacks the liver. If diagnosed with a blood test, usually a liver biopsy is needed. After diagnosis, long term use of medications to hold back the immune system should stop more liver inflammation.
Depending on the type of hepatitis you have, you may need check-ups, liver function tests or viral load assessments. These steps can check how well treatment is working, spot any complications and see how healthy your liver is overall.
It’s very important to diagnose and treat chronic hepatitis. Chronic infections can lead to complications with how your liver functions – like cirrhosis (scarring), failure and a higher risk of liver cancer. You could need a liver transplant if you have liver failure or liver cancer.
You can make lifestyle changes to help keep hepatitis under control:
You can take these steps to reduce your risk of being infected with hepatitis:
If you have hepatitis or are concerned about your risk, these resources can provide more information, education and support: