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For Teens: Understanding Hepatitis

Healthcare provider giving teenage girl an injection.

Hepatitis is a disease that harms the liver through inflammation. There are three main types of hepatitis viruses that can harm the liver. Hepatitis A spreads through sexual contact or food or water contaminated with feces. Types B and C spread through body fluids, sex, or infected needles. Hepatitis can be treated, but the virus often stays in the body. This is especially true for Hepatitis B, which can be controlled but rarely cured. Hepatitis C, however, is usually curable. Hepatitis A is usually acute-short term-meaning you usually get better without treatment after a few weeks.In some cases, hepatitis can lead to severe liver damage and even death. There is a vaccine to help prevent hepatitis A and B. If you’re at risk, ask your healthcare provider about the hepatitis vaccine. (Note: No vaccine is available to prevent hepatitis C.) Other types of hepatitis can be caused by fat in the liver, alcohol, drugs, herbs, medicines, toxins, or immune or genetic conditions.

What to look for

Hepatitis may not show symptoms for months, or even years, after the start of the disease. But over time, liver damage may cause serious health problems.

  • Early-stage symptoms can include tiredness, loss of appetite, nausea, muscle aches, fever, dark yellow urine, gray or clayed colored stools, and diarrhea.

  • Later-stage symptoms can include yellow skin and eyes (jaundice), swollen legs and belly, dark yellow urine, and internal bleeding.


Hepatitis A can be treated with rest and support until the infection goes away. It does not become chronic (long-term) For types B and C, the disease often becomes chronic (long-term) and you will be referred to a special healthcare provider. He or she can help you learn more about the disease and how to manage it. You will also have checkups to make sure your liver is still working properly.

If you don’t get treated

Hepatitis B and C can stay in the body and keep damaging the liver. They also increase your risk of liver cancer. After many years, a liver transplant may be needed. Alcohol use and being overweight can worsen the liver disease so avoid alcohol and maintain a healthy weight.

Increased risk

Never share piercing, tattoo, or drug needles. Hepatitis B and C can spread through infected needles. Never have unprotected sexual intercourse. If you feel you may have been exposed to Hepatitis B or C, it is important to also get tested for HIV.

If you have another, nonviral hepatitis, see a specialist to help manage and treat your disease.

Online Medical Reviewer: Jen Lehrer MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Kenny Turley PA-C
Date Last Reviewed: 7/1/2016
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