Hepatitis refers to inflammation of the liver. Inflammation is a tissue’s reaction to irritation or injury. It generally results in pain, redness, and swelling.
There are many causes of hepatitis. Viral hepatitis is caused by a virus. Viral hepatitis can either be acute (lasting less than 6 months) or chronic (lasting more than 6 months). Viral hepatitis can be spread from person to person. Some types of viral hepatitis can be spread through sexual contact.
Several viruses are known to cause hepatitis. Common forms of viral hepatitis include:
Most people recover from hepatitis, and the disease is often preventable. However, it is still considered a serious health risk because it can:
A person can get hepatitis A from eating food or drinking water carrying the virus. A person can get hepatitis B in many ways, including:
An infected mother has a high chance of giving hepatitis B to her child during or after birth. All pregnant women should be tested for hepatitis B. Within 12 hours of birth, infants born to mothers with hepatitis B need to receive treatment with hepatitis B antibody and hepatitis B vaccine. This can prevent transmission of hepatitis B from mother to the baby.
A person can get hepatitis C from:
Blood products are currently tested for hepatitis B and C, so it is not likely that a person will get hepatitis from receiving them. However, blood transfusions or organ transplants before 1992 might have not been tested for hepatitis. If you received a procedure before 1992, you might want to get tested for hepatitis.
Additionally, “baby boomers,” born in the U.S. between 1945 and 1965, are at increased risk of having hepatitis C. If you are part of this group you should be screened for hepatitis C even in the absence of risk factors listed above.
The most common symptoms of hepatitis include:
Contact your healthcare provider as soon as possible if you have any or a combination of these symptoms.
There are blood tests that will tell your doctor if you have a form of hepatitis caused by a virus.
There are no treatments to cure hepatitis A, aside from carefully monitoring liver function. Hepatitis B, when chronic, can often be treated successfully. The most commonly used drugs for the treatment of chronic hepatitis B are entecavir and tenofovir.
For hepatitis C, we use the drugs simeprevir, daclatasvir, sofosbuvir, the combination of sofosbuvir and ledipasvir, and the combination of paritaprevir, ombitasvir, ritonavir, and dasabuvir. These drugs are well tolerated and result in a cure rate exceeding 90%.
You are at a higher risk of getting hepatitis if you:
There are many ways you can reduce your chances of getting hepatitis:
It is very important that you take these preventive measures if you participate in risky behaviors. Take preventive steps, too, if you work in places like a nursing home, dormitory, daycare center, or restaurant where there is extended contact with other people and a risk of coming into contact with the disease.
Most people recover fully from hepatitis even though it might take several months for the liver to heal. To help improve your health and to help speed up your recovery:
© Copyright 1995-2019 The Cleveland Clinic Foundation. All rights reserved.
This information is provided by the Cleveland Clinic and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or healthcare provider. Please consult your healthcare provider for advice about a specific medical condition. This document was last reviewed on: 05/22/2015