What is hepatitis?
The term hepatitis means inflammation of the liver. It can develop when the liver is damaged by hepatitis viruses, alcohol, drugs and toxins. In less common cases, it can be a breakdown in the immune system that sparks the onset of hepatitis.
There are five viruses known to cause hepatitis: hepatitis A, B, C, D and E. The symptoms of all five viruses can be similar and all can infect and inflame the liver. The main difference between them is the way they are transmitted and the effects they have on your health.
How serious is hepatitis?
Hepatitis viruses can lead to an acute or a chronic illness. An acute illness will only last a short time and although it may be severe, most people recover from the illness within a few weeks, with no lasting effects. A chronic illness is one that lasts longer than six months.
With chronic hepatitis the virus reproduces in the liver and can cause liver damage. As more liver cells are damaged and destroyed, scar tissue takes their place – a process known as fibrosis. Severe fibrosis can cause the liver to become hardened, preventing it from functioning normally. This is called cirrhosis of the liver. In a small number of cases, serious damage to the liver can lead to liver failure and liver cancer.