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For Teens: Understanding Hepatitis

Hepatitis is a disease that harms the liver through inflammation. There are three main types of hepatitis viruses that can harm the liver. Hepatitis A spreads through oral sex or food contaminated with feces. Types B and C spread through body fluids, sex, or infected needles. Hepatitis can be treated, but the virus often stays in the body. Hepatitis B is controllable and curable. In some cases, hepatitis can lead to severe liver damage and even death. There is a vaccine to help prevent hepatitis A and B. If you’re at risk, ask your doctor about the hepatitis vaccine. (Note: No vaccine is available to prevent hepatitis C.) Other types of hepatitis can be caused by fat in the liver, alcohol, drugs, herbs, medications, toxins, or immune or genetic conditions.

Girl gets shot by doctor.

What to look for

Hepatitis may not show symptoms for months, or even years, after the start of the disease. But over time, liver damage may cause serious health problems.

  • Early-stage symptoms can include tiredness, loss of appetite, nausea, muscle aches, fever, dark urine, and diarrhea.

  • Later-stage symptoms can include yellow skin and eyes (jaundice), swollen legs and abdomen, dark urine, and internal bleeding.

Treatment

Hepatitis A can be treated with rest and medications. For types B and C, you will be referred to a special health care provider. He or she can help you learn more about the disease and how to manage it. You will also have checkups to make sure your liver is still working properly.

If you don’t get treated

Hepatitis B and C can stay in the body and keep damaging the liver. After many years, a liver transplant may be needed.

Never share piercing, tattoo, or drug needles. Hepatitis B and C can spread through infected needles.

If you have another, non-viral hepatitis, see a specialist to help manage and treat your disease.

Online Medical Reviewer: Finke, Amy, RN, BSN
Online Medical Reviewer: MMI board-certified, academically affiliated clinician
Last Review Date: 3/29/2014
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