Hepatitis is a disease involving inflammation of the liver. There are several types of viruses that cause the condition, including hepatitis A, hepatitis B, and hepatitis C. While receiving a hepatitis diagnosis can be unsettling, understanding how the condition affects the body may help you to feel in better control of your health.
According to NYU Langone Health, hepatitis A usually clears up on its own without the need for medical intervention. The condition rarely has long-term effects on the body, and in its early stages, symptoms may not appear at all.
When symptoms do manifest, they may include fatigue, stomach pain, nausea, and jaundice — lasting for up to two months. Experts at the CDC warn that hepatitis A is highly contagious and can be passed through close personal contact or ingesting contaminated food, but it is also preventable with a vaccine.
Unlike hepatitis A, hepatitis B is a serious liver infection which can become chronic. The Mayo Clinic states that symptoms may appear one to two months after infection, but some patients see them within two weeks. At first, symptoms may include dark urine, fever, joint pain, abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting, weakness and fatigue, and yellowing of the skin.
Hepatitis B also differs from hepatitis A and C in that it’s far less contagious. It must be transferred through bodily fluids to cause infection, including through sexual contact, the sharing of needles, and pregnancy (mother to child).
Most adults will recover from hepatitis B, even if they experience severe symptoms. In some people, hepatitis B becomes chronic and lasts six months or longer. This occurs when the immune system fails to fight the infection, so the condition may persist indefinitely.
Because hepatitis B affects the liver, serious issues such as cirrhosis and liver cancer could occur. The risk of chronic infection is highest in younger individuals, such as newborns and children under the age of five. For this reason, newborns are given the hepatitis B vaccine at birth, and anyone who may come into contact with infected individuals is also advised to receive the vaccine.
Hepatitis C is similar to hepatitis B in many ways, but with some important differences. Like hepatitis B, it is also transmitted through bodily fluids (usually blood), and an acute case (lasting six months or less) is often cleared by the body’s own immune system. Unfortunately, however, hepatitis C becomes chronic in nearly half of all people who contract the virus.
Symptoms may not appear at all in the early stages of chronic hepatitis C, and, when they finally do, they may present as advanced liver disease. Treatments can cure most people if they’re given within 8 to 12 weeks after contracting the illness, but there is no vaccine for hepatitis C.
This is why testing and vaccinations are extremely important.
The Widespread Impact of Hepatitis
Regardless of which type of hepatitis you have, the hallmark characteristic of the virus is its impact on the liver. The liver’s role is to process blood to filter toxins out of the body. It also produces critical components in the blood, as well as bile, which aids in digestion. As a result, hepatitis can have a compounding effect and lead to a wide range of problems including:
- Digestive troubles
- Reduced ability to absorb nutrients
- Changes to the hair, skin, and nails
- Weight loss
- Jaundice, a yellowing of the skin caused by a buildup of bilirubin
If you’re concerned about your risk for hepatitis, talk to your provider at LifeBrite Early to discuss your options. Schedule an appointment with our family medical practice by calling (229) 723-4313.
Learn More About LifeBrite
Atlanta-based LifeBrite, led by CEO Christian Fletcher, operates LifeBrite Community Hospital of Early, LifeBrite Community Hospital of Stokes, and Lifebrite Laboratories. For more about our specific services and facilities, visit our website.