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Viral Hepatitis

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What Is Viral Hepatitis?

Viral hepatitis is a liver condition caused by an infection. There are different types of viral hepatitis, each caused by a different virus.

All types of viral hepatitis can cause the liver to become swollen or damaged.

Thousands of people in the U.S. have viral hepatitis each year, but many don't know they have it.

Types of viral hepatitis

You can catch the viruses that cause viral hepatitis in a few ways.

The type of hepatitis you have depends on the virus that causes your infection.

Viral hepatitis types include:

Viral hepatitis causes

Viral hepatitis infections happen in different ways, including:

  • Contact with an infected person's stool.
  • Sharing infected needles.
  • Eating undercooked or tainted foods, or by drinking water that isn't clean.
  • Touching an infected person's body fluids, including blood or semen.
  • During childbirth.

Viral hepatitis risk factors and complications

Without treatment, viral hepatitis can damage your liver over time. This damage affects how your liver removes toxins and can cause serious problems.

People who have viral hepatitis are at higher risk of:

  • Liver cancer.
  • End-stage liver disease or liver failure.
  • Cirrhosis and complications.

How to prevent viral hepatitis

You can protect yourself from viral hepatitis by avoiding behavior that increases your risk of infection.

If you're an IV drug user, or use needles to take drugs, never share needles or use dirty needles.

Help prevent viral hepatitis infection by:

  • Washing your hands after using the bathroom or changing diapers, and before preparing or eating food.
  • Getting a vaccine for hepatitis A and hepatitis B.
  • Using a condom during sex.
  • Not sharing personal items with others, such as toothbrushes or razors.

Why choose the Center for Liver Disease for viral hepatitis care?

  • Our doctors are experts in diagnosing and treating all forms of liver disease, including viral hepatitis.
  • We offer complete care tailored to your unique needs to help manage any complications of viral hepatitis.
  • We work closely with the UPMC Liver Cancer Center and the Liver Transplant Program for seamless, advanced treatment if you need it.

Viral Hepatitis Symptoms and Diagnosis

Symptoms of viral hepatitis are much alike, no matter which type you have.

These symptoms include:

  • Fatigue, or feeling extremely tired.
  • Stomach pain and nausea.
  • Jaundice, or yellowing of the skin and eyes.
  • Lack of appetite.
  • Dark urine.
  • Itchy skin.
  • Light, or clay-colored, stools.

If you have any of these symptoms, let your doctor know. Your doctor might want you to have a blood test.

Some people with viral hepatitis, mostly hepatitis C, don't have any symptoms at all.

That's why every adult should get screened for hepatitis C at least once. Your doctor may also urge you to get tested if you are pregnant or have ever used IV drugs.

Diagnosing viral hepatitis

Doctors at the UPMC Center for Liver Care can diagnose viral hepatitis even if you don't have symptoms.

If your doctor suggests hepatitis screening, you can get a blood test that looks for one or more viral infections. These tests tell doctors if you have viral hepatitis right now or if you had it at another time.

Doctors also use certain tests to see if viral hepatitis has damaged your liver. Learn more about diagnostic testing at the Center for Liver Care.

Viral Hepatitis Treatment

Doctors can't always cure viral hepatitis, but certain treatments can help keep your liver healthy.

Experts at the UPMC Center for Liver Care offer the care that's right for you.

The goal of viral hepatitis treatment is to prevent long-term damage to your liver.

You should expect to see your doctor routinely to track your liver's health and any symptoms you're having.

Lifestyle changes to treat viral hepatitis A or B

If you have active hepatitis A or hepatitis B, your doctor might suggest these lifestyle changes to help keep your liver healthy:

  • Eating a healthy diet.
  • Exercising.
  • Limiting salt.

Medicine to treat viral hepatitis C

If you have hepatitis C, your doctor may prescribe antiviral drugs. These are drugs that clear the virus from your body.

Learn more about advanced care for hepatitis C.

Surgery for viral hepatitis

Left untreated, viral hepatitis can cause issues such as liver failure, or end-stage liver disease. The only treatment option for liver failure is transplant.

Liver transplant surgery replaces your failing liver with a healthy liver from a donor.

Learn more about liver transplant and living donor transplant.