Viral Hepatitis, Test Result Pending

Hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver. It is most often caused by a contagious viral infection. There are 3 common virus types: hepatitis A, B, and C. You are being tested to figure out which type you have. Until you know which type of hepatitis it is, you should practice precautions for all types of hepatitis, as described below.

Causes

The most common causes of hepatitis are viruses. Alcohol and drug abuse, chemical toxins, and autoimmune disorders can also cause hepatitis.

When a virus causes hepatitis, it is called viral hepatitis. The hepatitis viruses A, B, and C commonly cause viral hepatitis. Other viral infections can also cause hepatitis, such as the viruses that cause mononucleosis and chickenpox.

All the hepatic (liver) viruses have one thing in common. That is, once they are transmitted to you, they infect the liver and then cause inflammation (hepatitis). The viruses are spread in different ways. But all can affect your health over a long time. Possible complications include cirrhosis, liver cancer, and liver failure.

Hepatitis A

This disease is usually passed by swallowing food or water contaminated with the hepatitis A virus. It is also passed by close household contact with another person who has this illness. Symptoms begin from 2 to 6 weeks after exposure. There is a vaccine available to prevent hepatitis A. This type does not cause chronic liver disease.

Hepatitis B

This disease is passed by contact with the blood (such as by sharing needles, syringes, or snorting straws) or by sexual contact with a person who has the hepatitis B virus. It is rarely passed by sharing razors or toothbrushes. Symptoms begin 2 to 6 months after exposure. There is a vaccine available to prevent hepatitis B. This type may go on to become a chronic liver disease.

Hepatitis C

This disease is often passed by contact with blood (such as by sharing needles or syringes) from a person who has the hepatitis C virus. Less common causes for hepatitis C include sexual contact, sharing razors or toothbrushes with an infected person, receiving a tattoo with a dirty needle, or sharing snorting straws. Living in the same house with someone who has the virus does not cause hepatitis C unless you share body fluids. Hepatitis C may go on to become a chronic liver disease.

Symptoms

These are the symptoms of acute hepatitis A, B, or C:

  • Fever

  • Nausea or vomiting

  • Loss of appetite

  • Chronic fatigue or weakness

  • Dark yellow-colored urine

  • Light-colored stool (gray or clay color)

  • Aching joints

  • Yellow color of the skin or eyes (jaundice)

Hepatitis A is generally a mild illness, with symptoms lasting from 2 to 6 weeks. Hepatitis B is a more severe illness. Hepatitis B symptoms usually last from 1 to 3 months. Hepatitis C does not cause any symptoms in many people who have it. When symptoms do occur, they are usually very mild. Fatigue, nausea, and loss of appetite are common symptoms of hepatitis C.

Home care

  • A diet low in saturated fats and high in fruits and vegetables is best for you and your liver. Small, frequent meals are best if you have nausea.

  • If you are having symptoms of hepatitis, you may tire easily. Get plenty of rest. Don't exert yourself too much.

  • Acetaminophen and anti-inflammatory medicines such as ibuprofen and naproxen can be toxic to the liver in high doses, with prolonged use, or in the presence of existing liver damage.

    • If you have hepatitis, don't take these medicines until you talk about them with your healthcare provider.

    • If you have only mild or no liver damage from chronic hepatitis, you may take acetaminophen in low doses (2 grams every 24 hours). Don't take anti-inflammatory medicines. Never take acetaminophen with alcohol. Doing so increases the risk of liver damage.

  • Alcohol stresses the liver. Don't drink alcohol until all symptoms have gone away and liver tests are normal.

Preventing the spread of hepatitis

  • Wash your hands often, especially after you use the bathroom.

  • Parents caring for a baby with hepatitis should use disposable diapers. Wash hands after changing a diaper.

  • Food service workers should not work until cleared by their healthcare providers.

  • Inform sex partners of your illness. Do not have sex without a condom until the virus has been eliminated from your system. This may reduce the risk of transmission. But it is not a guarantee.

  • Never share needles, syringes, or tattoo equipment.

  • Don't donate blood.

  • Don't share razors or toothbrushes.

  • If you need medical or dental care, tell the healthcare providers that you have hepatitis. They can then take extra care to prevent the spread of infection.

  • If you are pregnant or plan to become pregnant, tell your healthcare provider. Hepatitis can be spread to the fetus. There are ways to lower your risk of transmission to the baby. It is common for pregnant women to be tested for hepatitis B.  

  • People who live with you should contact their healthcare providers or the local public health department as soon as possible. This is so they can be tested and get immunization. People who are exposed to you in any of the ways described above should also seek testing and treatment. A vaccine can be given up to 2 weeks after a person is exposed. (Vaccines are available for hepatitis A and B only. There is no vaccine for hepatitis C. But it can be treated.)

Follow-up care

Follow up with your healthcare provider, or as advised, to get the results of your hepatitis test.

If X-rays, a CT scan, or an ultrasound were done, they will be reviewed by a specialist. You will be notified of the results, especially if they affect treatment.

Call 911

Call 911 if any of these occur:

  • Trouble breathing or swallowing, wheezing

  • Confusion

  • Extreme drowsiness or trouble awakening

  • Fainting or loss of consciousness

  • Rapid heart rate

  • Vomiting blood or major rectal bleeding

When to seek medical advice

Call your healthcare provider right away if any of these occur:

  • Frequent vomiting

  • Weight loss from poor appetite

  • Increase in abdominal pain or swelling

  • Increasing drowsiness or confusion

  • Weakness or dizziness

  • New or increasing yellow color of skin or eyes

  • Bleeding from the gums or nose, or easy bruising

© 2000-2021 The StayWell Company, LLC. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.
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