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:
- 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?
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.