Could you have hepatitis? The best-known symptom of this liver condition is jaundice, which can make your skin or the whites of your eyes turn yellow.
But not everyone who has hepatitis gets jaundice. You might just feel like you have the flu. And there are a lot of other common symptoms, too.
And sometimes, people have no symptoms at all. To be sure you have hepatitis, you need to be tested.
Types of Hepatitis
There are several types of hepatitis, each with its own symptoms, treatment, and outcome. The most common type of hepatitis is viral hepatitis. The hepatitis viruses are known as hepatitis A, B, C, D and E. Types A, B and C are the most common in the United States. Only people who already have hepatitis B can get type D.
No matter which type you have, viral hepatitis attacks the liver. It may last a short while or for the rest of your life, depending on the kind you have. It may cause severe liver damage that could require a transplant, or it may have much milder effects.
How Does Hepatitis Spread?
There are several ways people can transmit hepatitis to someone else.
Hepatitis A and E are spread from person to person through contaminated food or water.
Hepatitis B, C, and D are spread through contact with blood from someone who has it. For example, it can happen to:
- A drug user who shares needles
- A health care worker who gets stuck by needles containing infected blood
- A person who shares razors or toothbrushes
- A customer who gets a tattoo or piercing at a shop that doesn’t clean its tools properly
Hepatitis B can be spread through sexual contact with someone who has the condition. In a small number of cases, hepatitis C is spread through sexual contact, as well.
Hepatitis B and C can be spread from mother to baby in childbirth.
What Are the Symptoms?
Some people who have some form of hepatitis feel like they have the flu -- weak, tired, and sick to their stomach. Many people have mild or no symptoms at all, which is why hepatitis is sometimes called a “silent” disease. Other people have yellow skin or dark-colored urine.
These symptoms are common for many types of hepatitis:
- Feeling very tired (fatigue)
- Loss of appetite
- Nausea and vomiting
- Stomach pain
- Dark-colored pee
- Light-colored bowel movements
- Jaundice, which is when skin or the whites of the eyes turn yellow
- Joint pain
Should I Get Tested?
If your doctor thinks you have hepatitis, there are blood tests to tell if you have types A, B, C, or D. You should get lab results back within a few days.
Some types of hepatitis get better on their own. Others turn into chronic cases and can damage the liver and cause liver cancer. If your doctor thinks you could have chronic hepatitis B or C, he may perform a liver biopsy. That means he'll remove a very tiny piece of your liver with a needle, then send it off to a lab to check for liver damage.
The sooner you're tested for a chronic form of hepatitis, the sooner you can take medicine to reduce or stop the damage the virus can cause to your liver.
Many people with hepatitis C don't have any symptoms, so they don't know they're infected. That’s why it’s so important to see a doctor and get tested. Chronic hepatitis C testing is recommended for anyone who:
- Was born from 1945 through 1965
- Received blood-clotting factor drugs before 1987
- Received blood transfusions or an organ transplant before 1992
- Has been on dialysis for many years
- Injected illegal drugs, even once
- Is HIV-positive
- Has a known exposure to hepatitis C (such as a health care worker stick by a needle with blood that is hepatitis C-positive or received an organ or blood transfusion from a donor who is hepatitis C positive)
- Was born to a mother who had hepatitis C
Will I Need Treatment?
Whether you’re treated for hepatitis depends on the type you have.
Hepatitis A or E: You should expect the disease to go away on its own within several weeks or months.
Acute hepatitis B or C: Sometimes, hepatitis B or C goes away on its own within a few months, although that’s less likely to happen with hepatitis C.
Chronic hepatitis B, C, or D: Your doctor will most likely prescribe medicine to treat your condition. And there are drugs available now that may even cure chronic hepatitis C. Vaccines for hepatitis A and B can help protect people at risk for hepatitis before they are exposed. They can also help protect patients with chronic hepatitis C.