Hepatitis causes the liver. It can be caused by a virus, excessive alcohol consumption or certain medications. It can also be caused through unprotected sex. There are three types of infectious hepatitis.
- Hepatitis A is caused by consuming contaminated water or food; it causes acute liver inflammation. Its symptoms include vomiting, diarrhea, and yellowing of eyes. The infection usually goes away on its own without treatment and does not cause long-term (chronic) illness. Very rarely, hepatitis A can cause life-threatening liver failure.
- Hepatitis B is contracted through sharing contaminated needles, having unprotected sex, or being exposed to infected blood from another person. It can be both acute (a short-term illness) or chronic (a long-term illness). Most adults who get it have it for a short time and then get better. But sometimes the virus causes a long-term infection, called chronic hepatitis B. Over time, this can lead to liver damage or liver cancer. It is preventable with a vaccine.
- Hepatitis C is spread by blood from contaminated needles during drug use or tattooing and by having unprotected sex. Over time, it can lead to scarring of the liver (cirrhosis), liver cancer, or liver failure. It is always chronic and is not preventable with a vaccine.
When it shows symptoms, hepatitis causes sudden nausea and vomiting, fatigue, joint pain, low-grade fever, and appetite loss. In many cases, hepatitis shows no signs, or the symptoms develop years after contracting the infection. Untreated hepatitis often causes cirrhosis of the liver, which interferes with liver function and can lead to liver cancer and death.