Hepatitis is the term used to describe inflammation of the liver. It's usually the result of a viral infection or liver damage caused by drinking alcohol. There are several types of hepatitis, see information below.

Symptoms of hepatitis

Some types of hepatitis will pass without any serious problems. Other types can be long-lasting (chronic) and cause scarring of the liver (cirrhosis), loss of liver function and, in some cases, liver cancer.

Short-term (acute) hepatitis often has no noticeable symptoms. You may not realise you have it.

If symptoms develop, they can include:

See your GP if you have any persistent or troublesome symptoms that you think could be caused by hepatitis.

Long-term (chronic) hepatitis also may not have any obvious symptoms until the liver stops working properly (liver failure) and may only be picked up during blood tests.

In the later stages it can cause:

Hepatitis A

Hepatitis A is caused by the hepatitis A virus. It's usually caught by consuming food and drink contaminated with the poo of an infected person. It’s most common in countries where sanitation is poor.

Hepatitis A usually passes within a few months, although it can occasionally be severe and even life-threatening. There's no specific treatment for it, other than to relieve symptoms such as pain, nausea and itching.

Hepatitis B

Hepatitis B is caused by the hepatitis B virus. It is spread in the blood of an infected person.

It's a common infection worldwide and is usually spread from:

  • infected pregnant women to their babies
  • from child-to-child contact

In rare cases, it can be spread through unprotected sex and injecting drugs.

Hepatitis B is uncommon in Northern Ireland. Most cases affect people who became infected while growing up in areas where the infection is more common.

Most adults infected with hepatitis B are able to fight off the virus and fully recover within a couple of months.

People infected as children may develop a long-term infection. This is known as chronic hepatitis B. It can lead to cirrhosis and liver cancer. Antiviral medication can be used to treat it.

Hepatitis C

Hepatitis C is caused by the hepatitis C virus. It’s the most common type of viral hepatitis in the UK. It's usually spread through blood-to-blood contact with an infected person.

In the UK, it's most commonly spread through sharing needles used to inject drugs.

Hepatitis C often causes no noticeable symptoms or only flu-like symptoms. Many people are unaware they're infected.

Some people will fight off the infection and be free of the virus. In most, it will stay in the body for many years. This is known as chronic hepatitis C and can cause cirrhosis and liver failure. Antiviral medication can be used to treat it.

Hepatitis D

Hepatitis D is caused by the hepatitis D virus. It only affects people who are already infected with hepatitis B, as it needs the hepatitis B virus to be able to survive in the body.

Hepatitis D is usually spread through blood-to-blood contact or sexual contact. It's uncommon in Northern Ireland, but is more widespread in other parts of Europe, the Middle East, Africa and South America.

Long-term infection with hepatitis D and hepatitis B can increase your risk of developing serious problems, such as:

There's no specific vaccine for hepatitis D, but the hepatitis B vaccine can help protect you from it.

Hepatitis E

Hepatitis E is caused by the hepatitis E virus. The number of cases in Europe has increased in recent years and it's now the most common cause of short-term (acute) hepatitis in the UK.

The virus has been mainly associated with the consuming:

  • raw or undercooked pork meat
  • offal

It’s less commonly associated with:

  • wild boar meat
  • venison
  • shellfish

Hepatitis E is generally a mild and short-term infection that doesn't require any treatment. It can be serious in some people, such as those with a weakened immune system.

There's no vaccine for hepatitis E. When travelling to parts of the world with poor sanitation, where the virus may be common, you can reduce your risk by practising good food and water hygiene measures.

Alcoholic hepatitis

Alcoholic hepatitis is a type of hepatitis caused by drinking excessive amounts of alcohol over many years.

The condition is common in the UK. Many people don't realise they have it because it doesn't usually cause any symptoms, although it can cause:

Stopping drinking will usually allow your liver to recover, but if you continue to drink alcohol excessively, there's a risk you could eventually develop serious conditions such as:

You can reduce your risk of developing alcoholic hepatitis by controlling how much you drink.

Autoimmune hepatitis

Autoimmune hepatitis is a rare cause of long-term hepatitis in which the immune system attacks and damages the liver. Eventually, the liver can become so damaged that it stops working properly.

Treatment for autoimmune hepatitis involves taking medicines that suppress the immune system and reduce inflammation.

It's not clear what causes autoimmune hepatitis or if anything can be done to prevent it.


The information on this page has been adapted from original content from the NHS website.

For further information see terms and conditions.

This page was published February 2018

This page is due for review July 2019

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