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What is Hepatitis?

Hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver tissue. The liver is situated in the upper right portion of your abdomen and performs some of the body’s vital functions including:

  • Production of bile juice
  • Storing sugars in the form of glycogen
  • Purifying blood from harmful substances
  • Making proteins that help in blood clotting

Causes of Hepatitis

Exposure to alcohol, toxins or drugs over a long period of time may result in hepatitis. It may also occur due to an autoimmune response in which antibodies (proteins) produced by your immune system damage your liver tissue, but most often, it is caused by a viral infection. 

Types of Viral Hepatitis

The 5 important types of viral hepatitis are:

Hepatitis A

It is caused by Hepatitis A Virus (HAV) that spreads through food, water or objects contaminated with feces of an infected person. Certain sex practices may also spread the disease. A person may be sick from a few weeks to months.

Hepatitis B

Hepatitis B Virus (HBV) spreads through

  • Infected mother to the infant
  • Exposure to infected blood by sharing of contaminated needles. razors or blood transfusions
  • Exposure to semen or vaginal secretions during sexual contact

Hepatitis C

Hepatitis C Virus (HBC) spreads through

  • Infected mother to the infant most often during delivery
  • Exposure to infected blood by sharing of contaminated needles, razors or blood transfusions

Healthcare workers are at higher risk of developing hepatitis B or C due to accidental needle stick injuries. Most often, both types result in a chronic infection that lasts longer leading to liver cancer or cirrhosis (severe scarring of liver tissue).

Hepatitis D

Hepatitis D Virus (HDV) spreads through direct contact with body fluids of an infected person. HDV is transmitted to a person already infected with HBV. 

Hepatitis E

Hepatitis E Virus (HEV) is transmitted through contaminated food or water and is often nonfatal and self-resolving.

Symptoms of Hepatitis

The most common symptoms of hepatitis include:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Loss of appetite
  • Dark urine
  • Yellow skin and eyes
  • Fatigue
  • Fever
  • Joint pain
  • Vomiting

Diagnosis of Hepatitis

Your doctor will assess your symptoms and perform a physical exam. The following diagnostic tests or procedures may be ordered:

  • Blood test: It involves testing for viral infection or antibodies produced against liver tissue.
  • Liver function test: This test determines the health of your liver. High liver enzymes indicate damaged liver tissue.
  • Abdominal ultrasound: It uses ultrasound waves to create images of internal abdominal organs. Images of an enlarged or damaged liver can be visualized. 
  • Biopsy: A small piece of liver tissue is obtained and observed under the microscope for the presence of the disease.


Some forms of hepatitis virus may damage your liver without causing signs or symptoms. Screening may be recommended by your doctor if you:

  • Are pregnant
  • Have multiple sex partners
  • Receive kidney dialysis
  • Take immune-suppressing medications
  • Use drug injections
  • Have abnormal results for liver function test
  • Have been adopted from a place where hepatitis is common

Treatment of Hepatitis

Your treatment plan includes:

  • Rest
  • Consuming hygienically prepared food and plenty of fluids
  • Antiviral medications
  • Interferon (special proteins) injections
  • Liver transplant

Prevention of Hepatitis

Hepatitis can be prevented by:

  • Vaccination (except hepatitis C)
  • Practicing good hygiene
  • Not sharing needles, razors or toothbrush
  • Practicing safe sex
  • Getting body piercing or tattooing only at a licensed, reputed facility
  • American Board of Internal Medicine
  • American Medical Association
  • American College of Gastroenterology
  • Texas Medical Association
  • Memorial Hermann Foundation
  • HCA Healthcare
  • Methodist Church
  • Howard University College of Medicine
  • American Society for Gastrointestinal Endoscopy
  • UT Health San Antonio