Hepatitis is a painful swelling and irritation of the liver. Viruses cause most cases of hepatitis, leading to uncomfortable infections. Hepatitis infections can range from a mild illness lasting a few weeks to a more serious, lifelong illness that attacks the liver. The most common causes of viral hepatitis are the hepatitis B virus (HBV) and hepatitis C virus (HCV). Each has its own way of spreading to other people and its own treatment.
Hepatitis can lead to:
- scarring of the liver (cirrhosis) which causes the liver to not work properly
- liver cancer, especially from long term (chronic) hepatitis B and hepatitis C
How Hepatitis is Spread
HBV and HCV can spread through:
- sharing needles and other drug equipment
- risky sexual behaviors linked to drug use, though this is not common with hepatitis C
Treatment for Hepatitis
Treatment is recommended for almost all infected people.
- For HBV: There are medicines for infected people to reduce the risk of liver cancer.
- For HCV: There are new medicines with few side-effects that can cure an HCV infection in most people.
Read more about the different types of viral hepatitis on NIDA's website.