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What Is Hepatitis?

Hepatitis is defined as inflammation of the liver.

Causes, Incidence and Risk Factors:

Hepatitis can be caused by infections with various organisms, including bacteria, viruses (Hepatitis A, B, C, etc.), or parasites. 

Chemical toxins such as alcohol, drugs, or poisonous mushrooms can also damage the liver and cause it to become inflamed. A rare but extremely dangerous cause of hepatitis results from overdose of acetaminophen (Tylenol), which can be deadly.

In addition, immune cells in the body may attack the liver and cause autoimmune hepatitis. Hepatitis may resolve quickly (acute hepatitis), or cause long-term disease (chronic hepatitis). In some instances, progressive liver damage or liver failure may result.

The incidence and severity of hepatitis vary depending on many factors, including the cause of the liver damage and any underlying illnesses in a patient.

Common risk factors include intravenous drug use, Tylenol overdose (the dose needed to cause damage is quite close to the effective dose so be sure to be careful to take Tylenol only as directed), risky sexual behaviors, ingestion of contaminated foods, and alcohol use.

Common types of hepatitis include:

  • Hepatitis A  
  • Hepatitis B  
  • Hepatitis C  
  • Autoimmune hepatitis  
  • Drug-induced hepatitis  
  • Alcoholic hepatitis  

What are the Symptoms of Hepatitis?

  • Dark urine
  • Loss of appetite
  • Fatigue
  • Abdominal distention
  • Generalized itching
  • Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and/or eyeballs)
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Low grade fever
  • Pale or clay colored stools
  • Abdominal pain
  • Breast development in males

Signs and Tests:

Physical examination may show yellowing of the skin, an enlarged and tender liver, and/or fluid in the abdomen (ascites).

Your doctor may order laboratory tests, including:

  • hepatitis virus serologies
  • liver function tests
  • autoimmune blood markers

An ultrasound of the abdomen may also be recommended.

How is Hepatitis Treated?

Treatment varies depending on the cause of the hepatitis.

Support Groups:

There are support groups for people with all types of hepatitis, which can help you deal with the disease and learn about the latest treatments.

A good resource is:  

Expectations (prognosis):

As with the severity of the disease, the prognosis depends on many factors, including the cause of the hepatitis and whether or not the person has additional illnesses or conditions which can complicate treatment or recovery. Many people recover fully; however, it may take months for the liver to heal.


Permanent liver damage or liver failure can occur.

Calling your health care provider:

Call your health care provider if you experience any symptoms.

How Can Hepatitis be Prevented?

Hepatitis may be prevented by following the following measures:

  1. Avoid contact with blood or blood products.
  2. Avoid sexual contact with a person infected with hepatitis or person with unknown health history. Practice safer sex behaviors.
  3. Use good hand-washing practices.
  4. Hepatitis A vaccine is available for people in high-risk groups.
  5. Hepatitis B vaccine is available for people at high risk such as institutional or nursery workers, healthcare professionals, intravenous drug users, and persons with risky sexual behavior.
  6. Avoid IV drug use. If you are already an IV drug user, never share needles and seek help from a needle exchange or drug treatment program as soon as possible.