Inflammation of the liver, by any cause, is called “hepatitis.” Hepatitis has many causes, including viruses, alcohol, autoimmune disease, fat, and other metabolic problems.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, viral hepatitis is the leading cause of liver cancer and the most common reason for liver transplantation in the United States. An estimated 4.4 million Americans are living with chronic hepatitis and many do not know it.
Hepatitis A, B, C, D, and E are common causes of viral hepatitis. Cytomegalovirus (one of the herpes viruses) and the Epstein-Barr virus (which causes mononucleosis, commonly referred to as 'mono') can cause hepatitis, as well. Each virus is distinct, is transmitted in different ways, and has a distinct treatment and recovery process, ranging from recovery in a few weeks to a chronic disease that may last a lifetime. Treatment is dependent on the specific virus and the treatment and recovery process.
Hepatitis is also categorized as acute (short-lived) or chronic (ongoing).
- Symptoms such as fever, vomiting, jaundice, and abdominal pain may appear after an incubation period that may last anywhere from a week to 6 months;
- Acute hepatitis may last a few weeks, a few months, or result in no symptoms;
- Acute hepatitis can be caused by viral infection (including hepatitis A, B, and C), a drug overdose such as acetaminophen, or exposure to toxic chemicals;
- A very small percentage of patients may develop acute liver failure.
- Symptoms are often not apparent, though patients may feel fatigued, for months or years until symptoms show, including loss of appetite, jaundice, abdominal swelling, and dark urine;
- Chronic hepatitis may last for months or years;
- Chronic hepatitis can be caused by a virus, alcohol, autoimmune hepatitis (in which the immune system destroys healthy liver cells), fat, and other products of metabolism;
- Cases vary from mild, with little liver damage, to more serious, with progression to cirrhosis and liver failure.