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Chronic Hepatitis

What is chronic hepatitis?

Hepatitis is inflammation (swelling) of the liver. A chronic illness is one that lasts a long time or may not go away at all. Chronic hepatitis lasts for 6 months or longer. Chronic hepatitis usually develops from acute hepatitis. An acute illness is one that comes on quickly and goes away quickly.

    • Usually, chronic hepatitis is caused by the hepatitis B or C virus or certain drugs
    • Most people have no symptoms, but some people may feel a little sick, tired, or not hungry
    • Sometimes, chronic hepatitis can cause serious problems over time, such as cirrhosis
    • Chronic hepatitis can last for years
    • Doctors can treat chronic hepatitis with medicine, but you may need a liver transplant eventually

What causes chronic hepatitis?

Chronic hepatitis is usually caused by one of the hepatitis viruses, especially hepatitis B and C.

Chronic hepatitis can also be caused by:

    • Some kinds of medicine, especially if you take them for a long time
    • Certain diseases, such as alcoholic hepatitis, fatty liver disease, and others
    • Autoimmune reactions (when the body attacks the liver)

Doctors don't know exactly what causes chronic hepatitis in some people.

What are the symptoms of chronic hepatitis?

About 2 out of 3 people with chronic hepatitis develop it gradually and have no symptoms until they develop cirrhosis (scarring of the liver).

You have acute hepatitis first. A few weeks later, you could have symptoms such as:

    • Feeling a little sick, tired, and less hungry
    • Sometimes, a mild fever and pain in your upper belly area
    • Swelling from fluid building up in your belly area (ascites)
    • Small, spiderlike blood vessels on your skin (spider angioma)
    • Red palms
    • Trouble thinking clearly
    • Bleeding easily

Less commonly, you may have symptoms such as:

    • Jaundice
    • Itchiness
    • Bad-smelling, greasy looking, light-colored stool (poop)
    • Autoimmune symptoms like joint pain and, for women, no periods

If you have chronic hepatitis B or chronic hepatitis C with cirrhosis, you may develop liver cancer.

How can doctors tell if I have chronic hepatitis?

Doctors will:

    • Do blood tests

    • Take a small sample of your liver to look at under a microscope (biopsy)

How do doctors treat chronic hepatitis?

Your doctor will treat your chronic hepatitis differently depending on the cause:

    • If a certain medicine is the cause, your doctor will have you stop taking the medicine
    • If hepatitis B, C, or E is the cause, your doctor will give you medicine to treat the virus
    • If you're having an autoimmune reaction, your doctor will give you corticosteroids and may also give you medicine to decrease the inflammation in the liver
    • If you have severe liver failure, you may need a liver transplant

Doctors will also treat any complications your chronic hepatitis has caused.