How to Recognize the Symptoms of Hepatitis

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Hepatitis, inflammation of the liver, can present many health challenges, and obtaining a diagnosis and starting treatment, when indicated, is of critical importance. The disease is most often caused by one of a number of viruses, such as hepatitis A, hepatitis B, and hepatitis C. However, it can also be caused by other conditions, such as chronic alcohol abuse.

Acute hepatitis can sometimes heal on its own without causing any damage to the body or health, but it can also become a chronic disease that progresses and result in damage to the liver through the process of fibrosis and inflammation, and eventually lead to cirrhosis, cancer, and even death.

Signs and Symptoms of Hepatitis

Showing signs and symptoms are the way the body communicates a problem. We all know the symptoms of common problems, such as sunburned skin and overworked muscles, but what about symptoms of an ailing liver? How does the liver communicate that something is wrong? As the liver becomes compromised by the viruses that cause hepatitis, symptoms may begin to emerge. However, some people with hepatitis experience no symptoms, especially in the early stages of the disease.

Recognizing the symptoms of hepatitis can pose quite a challenge for the average person. It's very difficult to determine whether you have the disease based on symptoms alone since many other conditions can cause similar symptoms. In addition, hepatitis symptoms can vary depending on the type of hepatitis a person has. Consulting a physician is always the first step in finding a diagnosis for any medical concern.


A well-known sign of hepatitis is jaundice, which is an accumulation of a substance called "bilirubin" in the body's tissues. Bilirubin gives a yellowish pigment to bile, a fluid produced by the liver. The liver usually processes bilirubin as a waste product, but when the liver is damaged, it's unable to do its normal job. Bilirubin then begins to accumulate in the blood and leak into nearby tissue. When enough of this substance accumulates, it's possible to see a yellow tint in the skin, especially around the whites of the eyes. Though this is a very obvious sign, there are other more common signs and symptoms of hepatitis in the liver.

Additional Symptoms

In addition to jaundice, patients with hepatitis may experience other symptoms that can be vaguer. These include:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Fatigue
  • Low-grade fever
  • Muscle or joint aches
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Belly pain 

Symptoms of Viral Hepatitis

The symptoms of viral hepatitis are very similar even though different viruses cause the disease. Because of this, it is not possible to accurately diagnose the type of virus causing viral hepatitis just by the symptoms.

By identifying risk factors (behaviors or traits that put you at extra risk for a certain disease) and getting a good medical history, doctors can come up with a strong working diagnosis. Since common symptoms overlap with many diseases, though, blood tests are necessary to diagnose viral hepatitis.​

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