Hepatitis is a condition that affects your liver. According to the CDC, 4.4 million people in the US are living with chronic hepatitis B or C. The resources on this page will help you better understand what hepatitis is, how you can prevent it, and how it can be treated.
What is hepatitis?
Hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver, the organ that helps you digest food and gets rid of toxins. There are several different types of hepatitis, caused by different viruses, including A, B, C, D, and E. The most common kinds of hepatitis in the US are A, B, and C.
What is the difference between hepatitis A, B, and C?
Though they all affect the liver, the different types of hepatitis are transmitted in different ways and have varying degrees of severity. Here is a good comparison of hepatitis A, B, and C from the CDC.
The most important thing to know is that hepatitis A is a short-term disease, usually lasting only a few weeks, while hepatitis B and C can become chronic and last for many years. Additionally, there is a vaccine for hepatitis A and B, but there is no vaccine for hepatitis C.
Hepatitis C is also the most common form of hepatitis; according to the CDC, in 2016 there were 2.4 million people living with chronic hepatitis C in the US. Watch this short video to understand why hepatitis C is such a problem:
Here are a few more pages with basic information on hepatitis:
- Viral Hepatitis: This page from the National Institute compares and gives an in-depth description of each type of hepatitis
- Hepatitis C – General Information: This CDC handout has a simple description of hepatitis C
- What Is Hepatitis C?: On this page from HepC.com, you can see what your liver looks like at different stages
Is it possible to prevent hepatitis?
The good news is that hepatitis A and B can easily be prevented by getting a vaccine. If you haven’t been vaccinated, talk to your doctor about getting this vaccine, whether or not you think you might be at risk of getting hepatitis. Find out more about the hepatitis A vaccine and hepatitis B vaccine, including who should be vaccinated and when.
Hepatitis B can be spread to babies during childbirth. However, if you are a pregnant woman with hepatitis B, you can prevent your baby from getting hepatitis B by getting them two shots soon after they are born. Learn more about pregnancy and hepatitis B on this CDC page.
Hepatitis C is a little harder to prevent, since there is no vaccine. However, it helps to know how hepatitis C is spread: when your blood comes in contact with infected blood. Here are a few ways that hepatitis can be spread from person to person:
- Sharing syringes and other equipment used to inject drugs
- Blood transfusions and organ transplants, especially before 1992
- Mother-to-child transfer at birth
- Tattoos or body piercings done with contaminated needles
- Needlestick injuries in health care settings
- Sexual contact with someone who has hepatitis C
The best way to prevent hepatitis C is to not use injection drugs. However, if you do inject drugs, make sure you never share equipment with anyone else and only use clean needles. This page from the CDC has more tips on hepatitis C and injection drug use.
People infected with hepatitis C can go decades without feeling any symptoms or even knowing they have been infected. When they do begin feeling symptoms, the symptoms will be similar for hepatitis A, B, and C. They can include:
- Loss of appetite
- Abdominal pain
- Joint pain
- Dark urine
- Clay-colored stool
- Diarrhea (hepatitis A only)
Who should be tested for hepatitis?
If you are experiencing any of the hepatitis symptoms listed above, you may want to talk to your doctor about getting tested. Additionally, the CDC recommends that you be tested for hepatitis C if:
- You were born between 1945-1965
- You inject drugs
- You have medical conditions like HIV or others
- You have received blood transfusions or organ transplants, especially before 1992
- You are a health care worker who has been stuck by a needle
- You were born to a hepatitis C-positive mother
People born between 1945-1965 are five times more likely to have hepatitis C than other adults, mostly because doctors only began screening for hepatitis C in blood transfusions in 1992. Learn more here.
What is a hepatitis test like?
There are different blood tests for each type of hepatitis, but for all kinds of hepatitis, you will need to get your blood drawn. According to Medline Plus, some tests check for antibodies to the virus, while others look for parts of the virus in your blood.
Find out more about the tests for each kind of hepatitis:
- Hepatitis A Testing
- Hepatitis B Testing
- Hepatitis C Testing
- What to expect when getting tested for hepatitis C
Treatment is different for each type of hepatitis:
- For hepatitis A, no treatment exists. Your body will simply clear the virus on its own. You may simply want to rest and avoid alcohol.
- For hepatitis B, if your infection is acute — meaning it will go away quickly — you might not need treatment. If it is chronic, however, you might need to take antiviral medications, get interferon injections, or in serious cases, get a liver transplant.
- For hepatitis C, you will likely need to take antiviral medications, and in serious cases, you may need a liver transplant. You can use this tool to find a doctor who specializes in hepatitis C and will walk you through your treatment.
Being diagnosed with chronic hepatitis B or C may seem scary, but it’s not a death sentence. There are things you can do to keep yourself healthy and lead a happy, healthy life with this condition. Read some tips for living with hepatitis.
More hepatitis resources
- HIV and Viral Hepatitis: Of people living with HIV, 25% are coinfected with hepatitis C, and 10% are coinfected with hepatitis B. Learn more about HIV-hepatitis coinfection on this CDC page.
- Viral Hepatitis Information for Gay and Bixexual Men: Among adults, about 10% of new hepatitis A cases and 20% of new hepatitis B cases are in gay or bisexual men. Learn more on this CDC page.
- Hepatitis C financial assistance: This page has a list of organizations that can give you financial assistance for treating hepatitis C.
- Talking to Your Doctor about Hepatitis C: Questions to ask your doctor, whether you have already been diagnosed with hepatitis C or not.
- WHO Global Hepatitis Report Infographics: Interactive graphs about hepatitis infections around the world.
- CDC Viral Hepatitis Data: Find statistics about hepatitis rates in the US.
- WHO Hepatitis News: Find up-to-date information on hepatitis research and infections around the world.