Hepatitis is inflammation of the liver – the largest organ inside the body. It helps digest food, store energy and remove poisons. Hepatitis is usually caused by a virus.
There are three types of hepatitis: Hepatitis A, B and C. Each is named for the virus that causes it. Drug or alcohol use can also cause hepatitis. In less typical cases, hepatitis can be caused when the body mistakenly attacks healthy cells in the liver.
Some people with hepatitis have no symptoms. Others may experience some of the following:
- Loss of appetite
- Nausea and vomiting
- Dark-colored urine and pale bowel movements
- Stomach pain
- Jaundice (symptoms include yellowing of the skin and eyes)
Hepatitis can be mild or severe. In some cases, it can lead to scarring, called cirrhosis, or even liver cancer. Hepatitis can last a lifetime or it can go away by itself. In any case, a person who may have hepatitis should always consult and monitor the condition with a health professional. Hepatitis that doesn’t go away by itself can be treated with drugs. As for prevention, there are vaccines that can prevent some viral forms of hepatitis.
Hepatitis A is inflammation of the liver that’s caused by the hepatitis A virus (HAV). The disease can be spread through contact with the stool of an infected person.
How you can get hepatitis A:
- Eating food prepared by an infected person who did not wash his or her hands after using the bathroom
- Drinking untreated water or eating food washed in untreated water
- Putting a finger or any object that came into contact with an infected person’s stool into your mouth
- Having close contact with an infected person, such as through sex or caring for someone who is ill
Most people with hepatitis A don’t have symptoms, but if they did, symptoms might feel like the flu. Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes) may also be part of the condition. A blood test will show if you have HAV.
Hepatitis A usually gets better in a few weeks, even without treatment. But some people can have symptoms for up to six months. The doctor may suggest medicines to help relieve symptoms.
Vaccination can help prevent hepatitis A. Good hygiene also helps. Wash hands thoroughly before touching food, after using the bathroom and after changing a diaper. When traveling internationally, ensure that water is safe before drinking.
Hepatitis B is inflammation of the liver that’s caused by the hepatitis B virus (HBV). The illness spreads by coming into contact with an infected person’s blood, semen or other body fluid. An infected woman can give hepatitis B to her baby at birth.
Hepatitis B can cause flu-like symptoms. Other symptoms include jaundice (yellowing of skin and eyes), dark-colored urine or pale bowel movements. Some people have no symptoms at all. To diagnose HBV, a blood test is taken.
Hepatitis B usually gets better on its own after a few months, but if it doesn’t, it can become chronic and last a lifetime. Chronic HBV can lead to scarring of the liver, liver failure and liver cancer.
Vaccination can help prevent hepatitis B. It is delivered in a series of three shots. All babies should get the vaccine. Older children and adults can be vaccinated as well, especially if they are travelling to areas of the world where hepatitis B is common.
Hepatitis C is inflammation of the liver caused by the hepatitis C virus (HCV). It usually spreads by coming into contact with infected blood. It can also spread through sex with an infected person and from mother to baby during childbirth.
Most people who are infected with hepatitis C don’t have symptoms for years. When symptoms do develop, they are often flu-like. Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes), dark-colored urine and pale bowel movements may also be some of the symptoms. A blood test is taken to find out if a person is infected.
Usually, hepatitis C does not get better by itself. The infection can last a lifetime and may lead to scarring of the liver or liver cancer. Medicine can sometimes help, but side effects can be a problem. Serious cases may lead to the need for a liver transplant. There currently is no vaccine for HCV. However, research is under way to develop such a vaccine.