Hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver, most commonly caused by a viral infection. The most common types of viral hepatitis are A, B, and C. Hepatitis can result for a number of other reasons, including consuming alcohol.
You’re most likely to contract hepatitis A from contaminated food or water or from close contact with someone who’s infected. The hepatitis A virus usually is spread when a person ingests even tiny amounts of contaminated fecal matter — often when eating food handled by someone with the virus who doesn’t thoroughly wash his or her hands after using the toilet. Another method of transmission is drinking contaminated water. You may have a mild illness that lasts a few weeks or a severe illness that lasts several months. Unlike other types of viral hepatitis, hepatitis A doesn’t cause long-term liver damage, and it doesn’t become chronic.
The hepatitis B virus is passed from person to person through blood, semen or other body fluids. For some people, hepatitis B infection becomes chronic. Having chronic hepatitis B increases your risk of liver failure, liver cancer or scarring of the liver (cirrhosis). Most adults with hepatitis B recover fully, even if their signs and symptoms are severe. Infants and children are more likely to develop a chronic infection.
Many people infected with the hepatitis C virus have no symptoms, and may not know they have hepatitis until liver damage occurs decades later. Hepatitis C is considered among the most serious of the hepatitis viruses. It’s passed through contact with contaminated blood — most commonly through needles shared during illegal drug use.
Alcoholic hepatitis is most common in people who drink heavily over many years, but the relationship between alcohol and hepatitis is complex. Not all heavy drinkers develop alcoholic hepatitis, and the disease can occur in people who drink only moderately. If you’re diagnosed with alcoholic hepatitis, you must stop drinking alcohol. People who continue to drink alcohol face a high risk of serious liver damage and death.
- Nausea and vomiting
- Abdominal pain or discomfort, especially on your right side
- Clay-colored bowel movements
- Loss of appetite
- Low-grade fever
- Dark urine
- Joint pain
- Yellowing of the skin and eyes (jaundice)
If your hepatitis infection will improve on its own, you may not need treatment. Rest, good nutrition, and fluids are important while your body fights the infection.
- Rest. Many people with hepatitis infection feel tired and sick and have less energy. Rest will help combat that.
- Manage nausea. Nausea can make it difficult to eat. Try snacking throughout the day rather than eating full meals. To get enough calories, consume high-calorie foods and beverages.
- Rest your liver. Your liver may have difficulty processing medications and alcohol. Review all your medications with your doctor and don’t drink alcohol.
If you have chronic hepatitis infection or severe symptoms, you may need treatment to reduce the risk of liver disease and to prevent you from passing the infection to others. Treatments include:
Antiviral medications, Corticosteroid drugs
If your liver has been severely damaged, a liver transplant is an option. For people with hepatitis C infection, a liver transplant isn’t a cure. Antiviral medications are usually necessary after a transplant because the infection is likely to recur in the new liver.
For severe alcoholic hepatitis, a liver transplant is the only hope to avoid death, but medical centers are reluctant to perform liver transplants for fear the individuals will resume drinking after surgery.
To reduce the risk of passing viral hepatitis to others, avoid sexual activity during infection. If you’re sexually active, tell your partner you have hepatitis and discuss the risk of transmission. Use a new latex condom every time you have sex, but remember that condoms don’t absolutely eliminate the risk.
In the case of hepatitis A, wash your hands thoroughly after using the toilet, scrubbing vigorously for at least 20 seconds. Don’t prepare food for others while you’re actively infected.
Don’t share razor blades or toothbrushes, which may carry traces of infected blood. If you use IV drugs, never share needles and syringes.
Hepatitis A and B can be prevented through vaccination. There is no vaccine for hepatitis C. The hepatitis A vaccine is typically given in two doses. The hepatitis B vaccine is given as three or four injections.
Excerpt From: The Mayo Clinic. “Mayo Clinic A to Z Health Guide”.