Hepatitis is a medical condition that affects the liver. The liver is an organ found in the right side of our belly (abdomen) under the rib cage. The liver cleans our blood of toxins, poisons, and bacteria; produces bile that helps our body breakdown food; stores vitamins, minerals and sugars; and helps control cholesterol levels. Hepatitis occurs when the liver swells, scars, and becomes inflamed, which stops it from working properly or completely.
Symptoms of hepatitis may include jaundice (yellowing of the skin), poor appetite, abdominal pain, enlargement of the abdomen, and a general feeling of being unwell, or malaise. Sometimes hepatitis can heal on its own, but other times it will progress to fibrosis and cirrhosis (types of scarring).
The most common causes of hepatitis are viral infections, but other medical conditions, including autoimmune disorders, certain medications and toxic substances, including alcohol and drugs, can also cause hepatitis. Viral hepatitis includes Hepatitis A, B, C, D and E. There are vaccines available to help prevent types A and B. Hepatitis A and E usually resolve on their own, whereas hepatitis B, C, and D can be chronic and serious. Transmission is dependent on the virus type. Physicians diagnose hepatitis by assessing symptoms during a physical exam, blood tests, and, if needed, using a liver biopsy.
Treatment for hepatitis is usually supportive, preventing further damage by avoiding toxic medications (including acetaminophen or Tylenol), drugs or alcohol, and, if possible, reversing the underlying cause. There are medications available to treat chronic hepatitis and, due to medical research, treatments are improving rapidly. Talk with your doctor if you or a family member has been diagnosed with hepatitis to decide on the best treatment plan.