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Acute Hepatitis


The Manual's Editorial Staff

Full review/revision Jun 2021 | Modified Sep 2022
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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 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... read more . 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:

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?

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:

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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