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Hepatitis B is a potentially life-threatening live infection caused by the hepatitis B virus. It is a major global health problem and the most serious

Last reviewed: November 23, 2010. Hepatitis is swelling and inflammation of the liver. It is not a condition, but is often used to refer to a viral infection of the liver.

Causes, incidence, and risk factors

Hepatitis can be caused by:

Immune cells in the body attacking the liver and causing autoimmune hepatitis Infections from viruses (such as hepatitis A, B, or C), bacteria, or parasites Liver damage from alcohol, poisonous mushrooms, or other poisons Medications, such as an overdose of acetaminophen, which can be deadly

For more information about the causes and risk factors for different types of hepatitis, see also:

Alcoholic hepatitis Autoimmune hepatitis Delta agent (hepatitis D) Drug-induced hepatitis Hepatitis A Hepatitis B Hepatitis C

Liver disease can also be caused by inherited disorders such as cystic fibrosis or hemochromatosis, a condition that involves having too much iron in your body (the excess iron deposits in the liver). Other causes include Wilson's disease.

Hepatitis may start and get better quickly (acute hepatitis), or cause long-term disease (chronic hepatitis). In some instances, it may lead to liver damage, liver failure, or even liver cancer.

How severe hepatitis is depends on many factors, including the cause of the liver damage and any illnesses you have. Hepatitis A, for example, is usually short-term and does not lead to chronic liver problems. The symptoms of hepatitis include:

Abdominal pain or distention Breast development in males Dark urine and pale or clay-colored stools Fatigue Fever, usually low-grade General itching Jaundice (yellowing of the skin or eyes) Loss of appetite Nausea and vomiting Weight loss

Many people with hepatitis B or C do not have symptoms when they are first infected. They can still develop liver failure later. If you have any risk factors for either type of hepatitis, you should be tested regularly.

Signs and tests

A physical examination may show:

Enlarged and tender liver Fluid in the abdomen (ascites) that can become infected Yellowing of the skin

Your doctor may order laboratory tests to diagnose and monitor the hepatitis, including:

Abdominal ultrasound Autoimmune blood markers Hepatitis virus serologies Liver function tests Liver biopsy to check for liver damage Paracentesis if fluid is in your abdomen

Your doctor will discuss possible treatments with you, depending on the cause of your liver disease. Your doctor may recommend a high-calorie diet if you are losing weight.

Support Groups

There are support groups for people with all types of hepatitis, which can help you learn about the latest treatments and better cope with having the disease. See: Liver disease support groups

Expectations (prognosis)
For information on hepatitis outlook, see these articles:

Alcoholic hepatitis Autoimmune hepatitis Delta agent (hepatitis D) Drug-induced hepatitis Hepatitis A Hepatitis B Hepatitis C


Liver cancer Liver failure Permanent liver damage, called cirrhosis