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Quick Facts

Acute Hepatitis

By The Manual's Editorial Staff,

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?

Doctors will:

  • 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