Hepatitis A Treatments, Complications, and Prognosis

Medically Reviewed by Arefa Cassoobhoy, MD, MPH on September 24, 2023
3 min read

Unlike other types, the hepatitis A virus is rarely dangerous. Almost everyone who gets it makes a full recovery. But since it can take anywhere from a few weeks to several months to clear up, it’s a good idea to know how to take care of yourself in the meantime.

If you think you’ve been exposed to hepatitis A, you should see your doctor right away. Getting a vaccine or a drug called hepatitis A immune globulin could keep you from getting sick. But for this to work, you’ll need to get the vaccine very soon after coming into contact with the virus.

There’s no treatment once you’ve been infected. You’ll have to wait until your body gets rid of the virus. Most people find that their liver is healed within 6 months.

Try these tips to care for yourself while you’re waiting for the virus to go away:

  • Stay in. Until any fever and jaundice have cleared up, your doctor will want you to skip work or school and stay at home.
  • Rest up. It’s normal to feel very tired during the first few weeks that you’re sick.
  • Take care of your skin. Some people with hepatitis A get very itchy. Keep your house cool, wear loose clothes, and skip very hot baths and showers.
  • Eat small meals. This is easier on your stomach than big, heavy meals. It’ll also lessen your chances of feeling queasy or throwing up.
  • Get enough calories. A loss of appetite is common. To make sure you’re getting enough nutrients, you may need to choose foods that are high in calories. You could even try drinking fruit juice instead of water.
  • Avoid alcohol. Drinking alcohol will strain your liver. You’ll want to avoid it until your doctor gives you the go-ahead.
  • Go easy on your liver. While you’re sick, your liver will have a tough time breaking down any drugs, including over-the-counter ones. Ask your doctor what medicines -- including vitamins and supplements -- are safe for you to take.
  • Keep your illness to yourself. The hepatitis A virus is easily spread to others. Until you’re well, avoid all sexual activity, even sex with a condom. Don’t prepare food for others. Wash your hands each time you use the toilet or change a diaper.
  • Check-in with your doctor. They’ll want to make sure you’re coping with your symptoms. They can let you know when you’re well enough to return to your normal routine.

Hepatitis A can cause more serious health problems. Keep in mind all that these are rare and more likely to happen in people who are over 50.

  • Cholestatic hepatitis. Occurring in about 5% of patients, this means the bile in your liver is obstructed on its way to the gallbladder. It can cause changes in your blood and result in jaundice fever and weight loss.
  • Relapsing hepatitis. More common in older adults, symptoms of liver inflammation such as jaundice, recur periodically but are not chronic.
  • Autoimmune hepatitis. This triggers your own body to attack the liver. If left untreated, it could result in chronic liver disease, cirrhosis, and ultimately liver failure.
  • Liver failure This happens in less than 1% and this usually affects people who are:
    • Older
    • Already have another type of liver disease
    • Have a weakened immune system

If your doctor feels your liver isn’t working well, they may admit you to the hospital to keep an eye on how well your liver is working. In severe cases, you might need to have a liver transplant.

Most people get better within 2 months. There are usually no long-term effects. After you recover, you’ll be immune for the rest of your life.

It’s rare, but for some people, the disease comes and goes for about 6 months before it goes away completely.

You are very unlikely to develop liver failure, though the chances are higher if you already had a liver condition or you’re elderly. If you have liver failure, you’ll need a transplant.