What is hepatitis?
Hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver. Inflammation causes soreness and swelling. Hepatitis can be caused by many things. Hepatitis is most commonly caused by one of the 5 hepatitis viruses (A, B, C, D or E). All types of hepatitis cause inflammation of the liver, which interferes with its ability to function. Lack of blood supply to the liver, poison, autoimmune disorders, excessive alcohol use, an injury to the liver and taking certain medicines can also cause hepatitis. Less commonly, viral infections such as mononucleosis or cytomegalovirus can cause hepatitis.
There are 2 main kinds of hepatitis, acute hepatitis (short-lived) and chronic hepatitis (lasting at least 6 months). If you have acute hepatitis, the liver might become inflamed very suddenly and you might have nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, fever and body aches. Or you may not experience any symptoms. Most people get over the acute inflammation in a few days or a few weeks.
Sometimes, however, the inflammation doesn't go away. When the inflammation doesn't go away in 6 months, the person has chronic hepatitis.
How does hepatitis affect the liver?
The liver breaks down waste products in your blood. When the liver is inflamed, it doesn't do a good job of getting rid of waste products. One waste product in the blood, called bilirubin (say "billy-roo-bin"), begins to build up in the blood and tissues when the liver isn't working properly. The bilirubin makes the skin of a person who has hepatitis turn a yellow-orange color. This is called jaundice (say "john-dis"). Bilirubin and other waste products may also cause itching, nausea, fever and body aches.
What is hepatitis B and how is it transmitted?
There are 5 viruses that cause hepatitis. Each hepatitis virus is named with a letter of the alphabet: hepatitis A, hepatitis B, hepatitis C, hepatitis D and hepatitis E. Hepatitis B is a serious liver infection that is usually spread through contact with blood and/or body fluids of someone who has the infection.
Written by familydoctor.org editorial staff