Hepatitis is a surprisingly common medical problem involving inflammation of the liver, the “chemical factory” of your body. In fact, millions of Americans have hepatitis, including many who are undiagnosed — and therefore, untreated.
While most of us have heard of hepatitis, many people don’t know a lot about the disease or the fact that there are multiple types of hepatitis, each with varying causes and treatments. Understanding the five common types of hepatitis is important for preventing disease and seeking treatment at the first sign of symptoms.
Our team at Digestive Disease Specialists, with locations in Moline, Illinois, and Davenport, Iowa, uses advanced techniques and a patient-centered approach to both diagnose and treat hepatitis. Here’s what we want you to know about the five main types of this serious liver condition.
Like all five types of hepatitis in this list, hepatitis A is caused by a virus that infects the liver. This virus is transmitted through food or water that’s contaminated with the virus or through close personal contact, including sexual contact, with someone who has the virus.
While hepatitis A causes inflammation of the liver, it usually clears up on its own with supportive medical treatment and lifestyle changes, such as avoiding alcohol and certain medicines. In rare instances, though, hepatitis A can be life-threatening, and it can make you very sick, so it definitely needs to be treated and managed medically.
Better still, you can prevent hepatitis A by getting a vaccine. The CDC recommends two doses of the hepatitis A vaccine for young children and for anyone else who wants protection from hepatitis A, as well as for people who have a higher risk of exposure to the virus.
Hepatitis B can cause long-term liver problems and increase your risk of developing chronic liver disease and liver cancer. At least 850,000 Americans have this type of hepatitis, but because it’s widely underdiagnosed, that number could exceed 2 million.
You can contract hepatitis B through contact with infected bodily fluids, such as saliva, blood, or semen. If you’re diagnosed with hepatitis B, you’ll need to take antiviral medications and receive other medical care to help protect your liver.
Although it can cause very serious complications, hepatitis B often goes undetected until those serious problems happen. Having a blood test to screen for hepatitis B is a good way to determine if you’re infected, especially if you have a higher risk of exposure to the virus. There is also a vaccine available that can help prevent the development of a hepatitis B infection.
Hepatitis C is the most common type of hepatitis among Americans, infecting between 2.4 million-4.7 million people. Like hepatitis B, this virus is also passed through contact with contaminated bodily fluids, but rarely through sexual activity.
Hepatitis C increases your risk for liver cancer, and it can lead to other lifelong liver problems, including scarring that interferes with liver function. Fortunately, today’s antiviral medications can be very effective in treating hepatitis C infections. There is currently no effective vaccine that can prevent the development of an infection.
Hepatitis D can be transmitted through sexual activity or contact with contaminated blood, including sharing contaminated needles. This type of hepatitis only occurs in people who also have hepatitis B.
Hepatitis D is treated with self-care, and while there’s no vaccine for hepatitis D, you can be vaccinated for hepatitis B in order to also prevent getting a hepatitis D infection.
Like hepatitis A, hepatitis E is caused by contact with contaminated food or water or through sex. However, unlike hepatitis A, hepatitis E is very uncommon in the United States.
There is currently no vaccine available for hepatitis E. Instead, the best ways to prevent infection are to wash your hands frequently, avoid drinking tap water while traveling to areas with high levels of infection, and avoid unprotected sex or other risky behaviors.
Know the signs and symptoms
Even though there are different types of hepatitis, they all cause liver inflammation — and that means they all share similar symptoms, including:
- Pain or tenderness in your belly
- Belly bloating
- Dark urine
- Pale-colored bowel movement
- Yellowing of the skin and eyes (jaundice)
- Nausea and vomiting
- Low-grade fever
- Itchy skin
Since symptoms may not show up until a later stage of the disease, screening and vaccination are essential.
Hepatitis screenings can help detect the disease early, so treatment can begin before liver damage occurs. If you’ve already been diagnosed with hepatitis, tailored medical treatments can help protect your liver and eradicate the infection.
To learn more about hepatitis and how we can help you stay healthy, book an appointment online or over the phone with Digestive Disease Specialists today.