What is hepatitis?

The liver is protected by the ribs. The liver is the largest internal organ of the body and is protected by the lower right ribs.

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.