Hepatitis is swelling and inflammation 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.
Other causes include Wilson disease, a disorder in which the body retains too much copper and ingestion of toxic mushrooms.
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, cirrhosis, liver cancer or even death.
There are several factors that can affect how severe the condition is. These may include the cause of the liver damage and any illnesses you have. Hepatitis A, for example, is most often 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 often.
You will have a physical exam to look for:
You may have lab tests to diagnose and monitor your condition, including:
Your health care provider 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.
More information and support for people with hepatitis and their families can be found by joining a support group. Ask your provider about liver disease resources and support groups in your area.
The outlook for hepatitis will depend on what is causing the liver damage.
Complications may include:
Seek care immediately if you:
Contact your provider if:
Talk to your provider about having 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:
To reduce your risk for spreading or catching hepatitis A:
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Guidelines for viral hepatitis surveillance and case management. www.cdc.gov/hepatitis/statistics/surveillanceguidelines.htm. Updated May 31, 2015. Accessed April 26. 2022.
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Reviewed By: Michael M. Phillips, MD, Emeritus Professor of Medicine, The George Washington University School of Medicine, Washington, DC. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.