Understanding Hepatitis: Diagnosis, Symptoms, and Treatment

What is Hepatitis?

The word hepatitis breaks down to hepa, which refers to the liver, and itis, which means inflammation. Therefore, hepatitis means there is inflammation of the cells within the liver.

Several types of acute (short-term) and chronic (long-term) hepatitis exist. These are primarily caused by viruses, but can also be caused by bacterial infection, and immunological disorder, or liver damage resulting from consumption of alcohol, drugs, or poison.

Magill’s Medical Guide summarizes the five most common types of hepatitis as follows:

  1. Hepatitis A (HAV) is caused by consumption of contaminated food or water.
  2. Hepatitis B (HBV) is a sexually transmitted disease.
  3. Hepatitis C (HCV) is spread via direct contact with the blood of someone who is infected with HCV.
  4. Hepatitis D (HDV) is seen only in someone who is also infected with hepatitis B.
  5. Hepatitis E (HEV) is caused by eating or drinking contaminated food or water.

Other forms of hepatitis include:

  • Hepatitis G (GBV-C), spread by the blood of someone infected with GBV-C.
  • Hepatitis X, diagnosed when the inflammation cannot be identified as any other form of hepatitis.

How is hepatitis diagnosed?

An individual who suspects they may have hepatitis should see a health care provider as soon as possible, not only to seek diagnosis and treatment, but to reduce the spread of this disease. The health care provider will take their health history, ask about their symptoms, and conduct blood and other diagnostic tests, such as a liver biopsy, ultrasound, and CT scans.

What are the symptoms of hepatitis?

Symptoms of hepatitis include fatigue, flu-like symptoms, abdominal pain, loss of appetite, unexplained weight loss, and yellowing of eyes and skin. Dark urine and pale stools may also be present. If left untreated, the liver will eventually stop functioning normally and liver failure can occur. This can result in bleeding disorders, fluid buildup in the abdomen which can cause breathing difficulty, liver cancer, kidney failure, and a decrease in mental abilities. If left unchecked, it can also lead to death.

How is hepatitis treated?

Treatment varies with the type of hepatitis. For instance, hepatitis A, acute hepatitis B, and hepatitis E do not require treatment beyond bed rest and hydration. Avoiding alcohol is also important for those with hepatitis, since alcohol is toxic to the liver. Other forms of hepatitis are treated with different medications that target specific types of viruses. Some individuals with hepatitis C may need a liver transplant.

If you think you may have hepatitis, or have questions about this disease, contact your primary health care provider. You can also seek out support groups for those affected by specific forms of hepatitis.


Alder, R. P., & Irons-Georges, T. (2016). Hepatitis. Magill’s Medical Guide (Online Edition).