Hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver. The liver is a vital organ that processes nutrients, filters the blood and fights infections. When the liver is inflamed or damaged, its function can be affected.
Viral hepatitis is the most common cause of infection, but catching a virus isn’t the only way to contract hepatitis. The condition can also be caused by a variety of factors including alcohol abuse, taking prescription or over-the-counter drugs, exposure to toxic chemicals and autoimmune diseases.
Today, viral hepatitis is a major global public health issue causing acute and chronic liver disease and killing over 1.5 million people every year. Viral infections of the liver include hepatitis A, B, C, D, and E and can be divided into:
Acute illness: comes on quickly and goes away quickly.
Chronic illness: lasts longer than six months and may progress over years, even decades, leading to liver scarring, liver cancer and liver failure.
Hepatitis A usually only causes a short-term (acute) infection that your body can overcome, while hepatitis B, C, and D are most likely to become ongoing and chronic. The chronic forms are more dangerous. Hepatitis E is usually acute but can be particularly dangerous in pregnant women.