What is hepatitis?
Hepatitis is a general term for inflammation of the liver. Normally, the liver breaks down waste products in your blood. But when the liver is inflamed, it doesn’t do a good job of getting rid of waste products. This causes waste products to build up in your blood and tissues.
Many different things can cause hepatitis. The most common cause of hepatitis is infection with one of the 5 hepatitis viruses (A, B, C, D, or E). Lack of blood supply to the liver, poisons, autoimmune disorders, excessive alcohol use, 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). 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.
What is hepatitis C?
Hepatitis C is a serious liver infection caused by the hepatitis C virus. It is spread from person to person through contact with blood. Most people who are infected with hepatitis C don't experience any symptoms for years. However, hepatitis C usually is a chronic illness (which means it doesn't go away). If you have hepatitis C, you need to be watched carefully by a doctor because it can lead to cirrhosis (scarring of the liver) and liver cancer. Cirrhosis from hepatitis C is a leading cause of liver failure and needing a liver transplant.
Hepatitis C: Part II. Prevention Counseling and Medical Evaluation by LA Moyer, R.N., EE Mast, M.D., M.P.H., and MJ Alter, Ph.D. (American Family Physician January 15, 1999, http://www.aafp.org/afp/990115ap/349.html)
Written by familydoctor.org editorial staff