Hepatitis is a medical term used to describe inflammation of the liver. It is usually caused by a viral infection or damage to the liver from alcohol consumption. We have outlined the different types of hepatitis below and how our patients can receive support with the virus.
Symptoms of hepatitis
Short-term hepatitis doesn’t usually have any noticeable symptoms, so you may not realise you have it. However, if symptoms do develop, they can include:
- loss of appetite
- pale, grey-coloured poo
- muscle and joint pain
- a high temperature
- feeling and being sick
- feeling unusually tired all the time
- a general sense of feeling unwell
- tummy pain
- dark urine
- itchy skin
- yellowing of the eyes and skin (jaundice)
In the later stages of hepatitis, symptoms may also include swelling in the legs, ankles or feet, confusion, and blood in your stool or vomit.
In This Section
Caused by the hepatitis A virus, hepatitis A is usually caught by consuming food or drink contaminated with faeces of an infected person. It’s more common in countries where sanitation is poor.
Hepatitis A usually lasts a few months. No specific treatment can cure it, other than to relieve symptoms like itching, pain and nausea with items available from your local pharmacy.
A vaccination against hepatitis A is recommended if:
- you're travelling to an area where the virus is common, such as the Indian subcontinent, Africa, Central and South America, the Far East and eastern Europe.
- you're at high risk of infection or severe consequences of infection
Find out more about hepatitis A here.
Hepatitis B, uncommon in the UK, is caused by the hepatitis B virus. The virus spreads in the blood of an infected person. Most people affected become infected while growing up in parts of the world where the infection is more common, such as southeast Asia or sub-Saharan Africa.
Most adults infected with hepatitis B fight off the virus and fully recover from the infection within a couple of months.
A vaccination against hepatitis B is recommended in the UK for people in high-risk groups, such as:
- children born to mothers with hepatitis B
- men who have sex with men
- healthcare workers
- people who inject drugs
- people travelling to parts of the world where the infection is more common
Since 2017, the hepatitis B vaccine has been added to the routine immunisation programme, so all children can benefit from protection from this virus.
Find out more about hepatitis B here.
Hepatitis C caused by the hepatitis C virus, is the most common type of viral hepatitis in the UK. It usually spreads through blood-to-blood contact with an infected person, such as sharing needles used to inject drugs.
There are no noticeable symptoms for hepatitis C, only flu-like symptoms, so many people are unaware they are infected.
1 in 4 people fight off the infection and become virus free. With the remaining cases, the virus can stay in the body for many years. This is known as chronic hepatitis C and can cause cirrhosis and liver failure. Chronic hepatitis C can be treated with effective antiviral medications.
Find out more about hepatitis C here.
Hepatitis D, caused by the hepatitis D virus, only affects people who are already infected with hepatitis B, as it needs the hepatitis B virus to survive in the body. Usually spread through blood-to-blood contact or sexual contact, hepatitis D is uncommon in the UK. It is more widespread in other parts of Europe, the Middle East, Africa and South America.
There is no vaccine for hepatitis D, but the hepatitis B vaccine can help protect you from it.
Hepatitis E, caused by the hepatitis E virus, has increased in the number of cases across Europe over recent years and is now the most common cause of short-term hepatitis in the UK. The virus is mainly associated with the consumption of raw or undercooked pork meat or offal, but also with wild boar meat, venison and shellfish.
Hepatitis E is generally a mild and short-term infection that does not require any treatment. Although, it can be serious in some people, such as those who have a weakened immune system.
There is no vaccine for hepatitis E. To reduce the risk when travelling to parts of the world with poor sanitation, where epidemic hepatitis E may be common, practise good food and water hygiene.
The British Liver Trust has more information about hepatitis E.
Alcoholic hepatitis is caused by drinking excessive amounts of alcohol over many years. The condition is common in the UK and as it does not usually cause symptoms, many people don’t know they have it. Stopping your alcohol consumption will usually allow your liver to recover, but there is a risk you could eventually develop cirrhosis, liver failure or liver cancer if you continue to drink alcohol excessively. You are able to reduce your risk of developing alcoholic hepatitis by controlling how much you drink.
For more information about alcohol-related liver disease and the health risks associated with alcohol, click here.
Autoimmune hepatitis is a rare cause of long-term hepatitis where the immune system attacks and damages your liver. Eventually, the liver can become so damaged it stops working properly. Treatment for autoimmune hepatitis involves effective medicines that suppress the immune system and reduce inflammation.
The British Liver Trust has more information about autoimmune hepatitis.
Please make an appointment with your GP if you have any persistent or troublesome symptoms that you think could be caused by hepatitis.
Support groups are also available for patients and families affected by the virus, visit British Liver Trust to find out more.