Viruses cause most cases of hepatitis which is known as Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B or Hepatitis C.
Drug or alcohol use can also cause hepatitis. In other cases, your body mistakenly attacks healthy cells in the liver. Some people with hepatitis have no symptoms. Others may have:
- Loss of appetite
- Nausea and vomiting
- Diarrhea, dark-colored urine and pale bowel movements
- Stomach pain
- Jaundice, yellowing of skin and eyes
Some forms of hepatitis are mild and others can be serious. Some can lead to scarring, called cirrhosis, or to liver cancer.
Sometimes hepatitis goes away by itself. If it does not, it can be treated with drugs. Sometimes hepatitis lasts a lifetime. Vaccines can help prevent some viral forms.
The Hepatitis A virus (HAV) causes Hepatitis A. The disease spreads through contact with an infected person's stool. You can get it from:
- Eating food made by an infected person who did not wash their hands after using the bathroom
- Drinking untreated water or eating food washed in untreated water
- Putting a finger or object into your mouth that came into contact with an infected person's stool
- Having close contact with an infected person, through sex or as a caretaker
Hepatitis A has few, if any symptoms. You may feel as if you have the flu. You may also have yellowish (jaundiced) eyes and skin.
Hepatitis B is caused by the Hepatitis B virus (HBV) and spreads by contact with an infected person's blood, semen or other body fluid. An infected woman can give Hepatitis B to her baby at birth.
If you get HBV, you may feel as if you have the flu. You may also have jaundice, a yellowing of skin and eyes, dark-colored urine and pale bowel movements. Some people have no symptoms at all.
Hepatitis C is caused by the Hepatitis C virus (HCV). It usually spreads through 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 have no symptoms for years. If you do get symptoms, you may feel as if you have the flu. You may also have jaundice, a yellowing of skin and eyes, dark-colored urine and pale bowel movements.
A blood test will determine whether you have the Hepatitis A, B or C virus.
Hepatitis A usually gets better in a few weeks without treatment. However, some people can have symptoms for up to six months. Your doctor may suggest medicines to help relieve your symptoms.
The Hepatitis A vaccine can prevent you from getting HAV. Good hygiene can also help. Wash your hands thoroughly before preparing food, after using the toilet or after changing a diaper. International travelers should be careful about drinking tap water.
Hepatitis B also gets better on its own after a few months. If it does not it is called chronic HBV and lasts a lifetime. Chronic HBV can lead to scarring of the liver, liver failure or liver cancer.
There is also a vaccine for Hepatitis B. It requires three shots. All babies should have the vaccine, but older children and adults can get it too. If you travel to countries where Hepatitis B is common, you should be vaccinated as well.
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. Medicines sometimes help, but side effects can be a problem. Serious cases may need a liver transplant. There is no vaccine for HCV.