What is acute hepatitis?
Hepatitis is inflammation (swelling) of your liver. An acute illness is one that comes on quickly and goes away quickly. Acute hepatitis sometimes becomes chronic hepatitis. A chronic illness is one that lasts a long time.
- Acute hepatitis is caused by a viral infection
- Your symptoms can range from mild and flu-like to severe and life-threatening
- Doctors do blood tests to see if you have acute hepatitis
- You can get vaccines (shots) to prevent some types of hepatitis
- Certain activities, like getting tattoos or piercings, sharing needles to inject drugs, or having several sex partners, raise your risk of getting hepatitis
What causes acute hepatitis?
- There are 5 types of hepatitis virus that can cause acute viral hepatitis, and they're known as A, B, C, D, and E
- Hepatitis A virus is the most common cause of hepatitis
- Hepatitis B virus is the second most common cause
The different hepatitis viruses spread in different ways:
- Hepatitis A: through water or food contaminated by stool (poop) from infected people
- Hepatitis B: through contact with blood or body fluids from infected people, for example, by having sex or sharing needles (to use drugs or get tattoos)—also, a pregnant woman can pass hepatitis B to her baby
- Hepatitis C: through contact with blood from infected people, for example, by sharing needles—having sex usually doesn't transmit hepatitis C
- Hepatitis D: Same as hepatitis B
- Hepatitis E: Same as hepatitis A
What are the symptoms of acute hepatitis?
You may have no symptoms at all, or you may have symptoms like:
- Less hungry than usual
- Fever, throwing up, or feeling sick to your stomach
- Pain in the upper right part of your belly, which is where your liver is
- Yellowing of your skin and the white parts of your eyes (jaundice)
- Dark urine
- A distaste for cigarettes, if you smoke
Many symptoms usually go away in 3 to 10 days, and you start to feel better. The yellowing of your skin and eyes can last 2 to 4 weeks.
What are the complications of acute hepatitis?
You may have no complications but sometimes:
- With hepatitis B, your liver stops working (liver failure)
- With hepatitis B, C, or D, the hepatitis becomes chronic
- With hepatitis B, C, or D, you can get liver cancer years later
How can doctors tell if I have acute hepatitis?
- Do blood tests to see how well your liver is working and check for hepatitis viruses
- Occasionally, do a biopsy of your liver by taking a sample of it with a needle to look at under a microscope
How do doctors treat acute hepatitis?
If you have
mild acute viral hepatitis:
- You'll probably recover in 4 to 8 weeks with no special treatment
- Your doctor will ask you not to drink alcohol or take certain drugs until you're healthy
If you have
severe acute viral hepatitis, you may need:
- To be cared for in the hospital
- Medicines that help kill the virus
- Rarely, a liver transplant
How can I prevent acute hepatitis?
You can get shots (vaccines) to prevent infections from hepatitis A, B, and E.
If you may have been in contact with someone with hepatitis A or B, you can get a shot that helps fight the infection.
You can also help prevent acute viral hepatitis if you:
- Wash your hands thoroughly before you touch food
- Don't share toothbrushes, razors, or other things that could get blood on them from other people
- Practice safe sex, such as using a condom
- Limit the number of people you have sex with
- Don't share needles to inject drugs