By Apollo 24|7, Published on- 12 December 2022 & Updated on - 23 February 2024

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  • Symptoms: Light or clay-coloured stool, jaundice, nausea, vomiting, fever, loss of appetite, fatigue, joint pain, abdominal pain, bloated belly, dark urine, yellowing of the eyes and skin, itching, weight loss, malaise, diarrhoea

  • Causes: Exposure to hepatitis viruses, contact with body fluids, contaminated food and water, heavy alcohol drinking, autoimmune disorder, environmental factors

  • Risk Factors: Injecting drugs from shared needles, living with a hepatitis patient, sexual intimacy with hepatitis infected person, exposure to contaminated food and water

  • Prevalence: HBV infection rates ranged from high (≥ 8%), intermediate (2-7%), and low (< 2%). Similarly, HCV infection has high (> 3.5%), moderate (1.5-3.5%), and low (<1.5%) prevalence.

  • Severity: Mild to Severe

  • Which doctor to consult: Gastroenterologist, Hepatologist, Infectious disease specialist

  • Overview

    Hepatitis is a liver inflammation or swelling that can cause damage to the organ. It has a direct impact on the functionality of the liver. The liver is responsible for vital functions like processing nutrients, filtering blood, and preventing infection. So, all of these can be jeopardised due to hepatitis infection. In extreme cases, it can even cause fatal complications like cirrhosis, liver failure and liver carcinoma.

    Hepatitis is primarily caused by infection, although other factors like heavy alcohol consumption, toxicity, and the body's autoimmune response can also cause it.

    The infection can be of various types, according to research. For instance, some known types are viral hepatitis, alcoholic hepatitis, toxic hepatitis, autoimmune hepatitis, etc.

    Types of Hepatitis:

    Depending on the viruses that can cause the liver infection, viral hepatitis is categorised into the following few types:

    • Hepatitis A, caused by the hepatitis A virus (HAV)

    • Hepatitis B, caused by the hepatitis B virus (HBV)

    • Hepatitis C, caused by the hepatitis C virus (HCV)

    • Hepatitis D, caused by the hepatitis D virus (HDV)

    • Hepatitis E, caused by the hepatitis E virus (HEV)

    Hepatitis A and E types are caused due to consuming contaminated food or water. The contamination can occur from the stool of a hepatitis-infected person. Hepatitis E can also occur from eating uncooked or under-prepared pork and shellfish.

    On the other hand, hepatitis B, C, and D can spread from the contaminated blood of a patient. Even body fluid contact with an infected person can cause hepatitis B and D.

    However, among all of these, hepatitis A, B, and C are the most prevalent types. The disease can permanently scar the liver if left untreated, resulting in cirrhosis. This significantly lowers the survival chance of the patient, as patients with compensated cirrhosis have a lifespan of 12 years. A worse prognosis of the condition can reduce the lifespan to two years if a liver transplant is not performed.


    Some people with hepatitis do not experience symptoms and are unaware that they are infected. If you have symptoms, they may be:

    • Fever 

    • Fatigue

    • Loss of appetite

    • Nausea and/or vomiting

    • Abdominal Pain

    • Dark urine

    • Clay-coloured bowel movements

    • Joint pain

    • Jaundice, yellowing of the skin and eyes

    If you have an acute infection, your symptoms can appear anywhere from 2 weeks to 6 months after becoming infected. You may not experience symptoms for several years if you have a chronic infection.


    The cause of the disease depends on the type and route of transmission:
    Hepatitis A:    exposure to HAV in food or water
    Hepatitis B:    contact with HBV in body fluids, such as blood, vaginal secretions, or semen
    Hepatitis C:    contact with HCV in body fluids, such as blood, vaginal secretions, or semen
    Hepatitis D:    contact with blood containing HDV
    Hepatitis E:    exposure to HEV in food or water

    Risk Factors of Hepatitis:

    Lifestyle Risk Factors:
    Certain environmental factors, behaviours, or health issues can increase your risk of developing hepatitis.

    Environmental Risk Factors
    Because many causes of hepatitis are found in a person's surroundings, exposure to certain environmental factors can increase your chances of developing hepatitis over time. Environmental risk factors associated with hepatitis are:
    1. Unsafe water for drinking or washing produce.
    2. Inadequate sanitation services, such as restrooms or handwashing stations
    3. Contact with used needles, syringes, or other objects that could be contaminated with hepatitis virus-infected blood.

    Behavioral Risk Factors
    Similarly, certain behaviours or activities can increase your risk of being exposed to viruses, toxic chemicals, or hepatitis-causing substances. Risk factors for hepatitis include:

    1. Sharing contaminated needles and engaging in unsafe sexual practices like not using a condom, having rough sex, or having multiple partners.

    2. Working with toxic chemicals: Occupations that are frequently exposed to chemicals include dry cleaners, painters, healthcare providers, and farm workers. 

    3. Additionally, drinking untreated water and eating food that has not been properly prepared (e.g., unwashed produce)

    4. consuming large amounts of alcohol over time is also a risk factor.

    5. Taking medications is thought to be linked to hepatitis.

    Health Risk Factors
    A person's medical history may increase the likelihood of developing hepatitis.
    Health risk factors for hepatitis are:

    1. Not getting vaccinated against viral hepatitis, particularly HAV and HBV

    2. Acute or chronic infection with one or more hepatitis viruses.

    3. Having an autoimmune disorder, such as autoimmune polyendocrinopathy candidiasis and ectodermal dystrophy (APECE) 

    4. Being born to a mother infected with a hepatitis virus, specifically hepatitis B.


    • Liver Cirrhosis: If left untreated, all hepatitis infections harm the liver. Continuing over a prolonged period can cause scarring of the liver tissues, resulting in liver cirrhosis. This can disrupt the normal functioning of the liver, making leading a regular life impossible. Patients with liver cirrhosis also have a reduced lifespan.

    • Liver Cancer: One of the worst scenarios if hepatitis is not treated on time is the formation of liver carcinoma. Usually, patients with hepatitis B and C infections are at the most risk of developing this complication. The condition can aggravate in the presence of other symptoms like abnormal liver enzyme secretion.

    • Fulminant Hepatitis: Fulminant hepatitis, also called fulminant hepatic failure, is a severe condition. It can cause multiple liver impairments, pushing the organ to stop functioning entirely. In worst cases, a patient can go into a hepatic coma, where the liver synthesising function halts after eight weeks of being infected with hepatitis.



    Vaccines can help protect against a variety of hepatitis viruses. Minimizing your exposure to substances containing these viruses can also be an effective preventive measure.

    Hepatitis A vaccines are available to prevent infection. The hepatitis A vaccine consists of two doses, and most children begin vaccination between the ages of 12 and 23 months. Trusted source. This is also available to adults and may include the hepatitis B vaccine.

    All newborns should receive hepatitis B vaccinations, according to the CDCTrusted Source. Doctors typically administer a series of three vaccines during the first six months of a child's life.

    The CDC also recommends the vaccine for all healthcare and medical workers. Hepatitis B vaccine can also prevent hepatitis D.

    Currently, there are no vaccines for Hepatitis C or E.

    Reducing exposure
    Hepatitis viruses can spread from person to person through contact with bodily fluids, water, and foods containing infectious agents. Minimizing your exposure to these substances can help you avoid contracting hepatitis viruses.

    Maintaining proper hygiene is one way to avoid contracting hepatitis A and E. The viruses responsible for these conditions can be found in water. If you're travelling to a country with a high prevalence of hepatitis, avoid local water, ice, raw or undercooked shellfish and oysters, and raw fruits and vegetables.

    Hepatitis B, C, and D viruses can be transmitted through bodily fluids that contain these infectious agents.

    You can decrease your risk. To avoid contact with fluids containing these viruses, avoid sharing needles.
    not sharing razor blades
    Avoid using someone else's toothbrush and touching any spilt blood to avoid contamination.
    Hepatitis B and C can be transmitted through sexual contact and intercourse. Using barrier methods, such as condoms and dental dams, during sexual activity can reduce the risk of infection.

    When to Consult a Doctor?

    An individual must seek medical attention if he/she faces any of the following situations:

    On Symptoms: Despite its severe circumstances, there is no need to panic when diagnosed with hepatitis. Often, the symptoms do not aggravate beyond a headache or fatigue. However, if the symptoms refuse to go away, it is best to get checked by a doctor. In the case of hepatitis, the quicker an individual seeks medical attention, the better. Doctors may examine the individual for external symptoms such as an alteration in vision, discomfort in the chest and dizziness. However, a prominent sign of hepatitis is diarrhoea that lasts over 48 hours with traces of blood in the stool.

    Routine Check-up: Regular screening like hepatitis panel tests and vaccination (especially for the HAV and HBV virus) can protect an individual.

    During Pregnancy: Pregnant women need to undergo hepatitis testing as an HBV infection can increase the chances of cirrhosis. Pregnancy can also aggravate a hepatitis D infection, resulting in chronic liver diseases.

    Hepatitis E is associated with preterm and low birth weights. So, to avoid all these complications, it is better to consult a doctor beforehand.


    A doctor must diagnose the type of hepatitis first to provide proper treatment. For instance, hepatitis A may have similar symptoms to other acute viral hepatitis types. Due to this, an individual must consult a gastroenterologist, hepatologist, and infectious disease specialist. They may conduct various examinations to confirm the disease. These tests are primarily helpful for diagnosing hepatitis A, B, and C.

    Physical Examination: Usually, doctors will perform a routine physical exam based on the signs and symptoms a patient experiences. This includes pressing against the abdomen gently to diagnose if the liver is swollen. The doctor also examines the skin and eyes for signs of jaundice, as these areas can exhibit a yellowish tint. Doctors may also question your medical history and current conditions, which you must explain in detail.

    Diagnostic Tests

    Blood Tests: Blood tests are the primary diagnosing test conducted to verify the occurrence of any form of hepatitis. The test result can also confirm the hepatitis type, whether the infection status is dormant or active. Blood tests also verify if a person is immune to the disease. The test includes examining various immunoglobulin antibodies against the viruses. For instance, a hepatitis A blood test confirms specific HAV-IgM antibodies in the blood. Similarly, hepatitis D is confirmed through IgG and IgM level testing.

    Imaging Tests

    Imaging tests are further done to reconfirm the doctor's diagnosis after the type of hepatitis is diagnosed through the blood test. Doctors can recommend one or all imaging tests to assess the liver condition properly.

    • Ultrasound: An ultrasound test utilises high-frequency sound waves to get a proper image of the body's internal structure. A handheld transducer is placed against the abdomen while it captures and sends the image of the liver to a computer screen. The test confirms the occurrence of inflammation in the liver, as the image shows large scarred areas on the organ. This can even indicate a progression of the disease towards cirrhosis.

    • CT Scans and MRI: If the blood tests and ultrasound indicate liver cancer, a CT scan or MRI is recommended. A doctor can also prescribe these tests if the patient has a medical history of liver carcinoma. These tests provide much greater details about the liver as two, or three-dimensional images of the internal body structures are produced.

    Advanced Test

    Transient Elastography: One of the more advanced liver imaging tests is the transient elastography of the liver. It allows the measurement of the liver tissue and helps doctors determine how soft or hard it is. If liver stiffness is detected, it could indicate fibrosis, usually caused by a liver injury. The stiffness level also evaluates the damage that occurred due to viral hepatitis.

    Advanced Tests

    Liver Biopsy: A liver biopsy is recommended if the results from the various imaging studies are unsatisfactory. This is a rare situation, but it helps doctors better understand the impact on the liver due to viral hepatitis. This information later helps in providing proper treatment to the patient. During the procedure, the doctor will perform local anaesthesia on the skin and insert a needle into the liver. A small sample is collected and later sent for further lab testing for confirmation.


    Home Care: There are specific remedies one can perform to ease the suffering during hepatitis and accelerate the healing process. Although hepatitis A is rarely fatal, patients can take up to months to fully recover. Taking care of oneself at home during this time is essential. Eating meals in tiny portions is also recommended, as taking good care of the skin and getting as much rest as possible. For hepatitis C infection, consuming natural herbs like Schisandra, milk thistle, turmeric, and dandelion root promises good results. Also, homoeopathy and naturopathy can offer relief. However, one should inform the doctor before opting for these alternative methods.

    Medication: The best way to prevent hepatitis is to get vaccinated (Hepatitis B Vaccine). Once infected, there is not much treatment available except for letting the body heal independently. However, certain medications like acetaminophen and paracetamol are prescribed to patients with hepatitis A. For hepatitis B, several antiviral medicines like Entecavir, Lamivudine, Telbivudine, Tenofovir, and Adefovir are helpful. A doctor may even apply interferon injections to prevent the infection.

    Surgical Treatment: A transplant is the only option in extreme cases where the liver is damaged beyond repair. During this procedure, general anaesthesia is applied. A surgeon then removes the damaged liver tissue and replaces it with a healthy one from a donor. Usually, most livers come from deceased donors. This treatment method is only prescribed as a last resort at the end-stage of liver disease.

    Additional Information

    Hepatitis complications due to smoking: Although smoking may not impact the liver directly, it can surely increase the carcinogens in the body. In the case of hepatitis B infection, cigarette smoking has been seen to increase the damage to the liver cells also. If an individual is already prone to certain types of cancer, a hepatitis infection can worsen it.

    It has also been seen that smoking and hepatitis B and C infections are closely associated in patients with liver cancer. This is due to the cytotoxic chemicals released from smoking that can cause fibrosis and increase inflammation. Moreover, smoking can make the body produce more proinflammatory cytokines that cause further injury to the liver.

    Hepatitis complications due to age: Hepatitis infections tend to be more severe among the elderly. For example, a hepatitis C infection may accelerate quicker in an older person than a younger one. This is due to the decline in overall immune health.

    Even treatments can become complicated in the case of older patients. Performing specific transplants has an age limit, which may not always be a viable solution. Common symptoms of liver disease in elderly patients can include fatigue, nausea, vomiting, and muscle pain.

    It has been seen that those above the age of 65 are more prone to contracting a severe infection. Also, not all hepatitis types can be treated the same way. So, in older patients' cases, stricter precautions must be taken.


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Frequently Asked Questions

Which hepatitis infection is the worst?

Hepatitis A is the most common type of infection, and there are vaccines to prevent it. Hepatitis C is considered to be the worst type of infection because there is no vaccine available for it. However, both hepatitis B and C can be chronic.

While hepatitis A is a short-term infection, both B and C types are not. Although these start as short-term infections, the hepatitis B and C viruses can make the condition chronic without proper treatment.

Hepatitis C infection is the most curable one. Although no vaccine is available for hepatitis C infection, antiviral medication has proven to cure 95% of hepatitis C patients.

Hepatitis A and B infections are not curable. Fortunately, both are short-term infections, and there are vaccines to prevent these.