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Quick Facts

Acute Hepatitis


The Manual's Editorial Staff

Last full review/revision Jun 2021| Content last modified Jun 2021
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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 often 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 and what virus is the cause

  • You can get vaccines (shots) to prevent some types of viral 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:

  • Feeling 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 A or 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 or B. People in China also can get shots for hepatitis 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

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