Hepatitis is the name of a group of diseases that affect the liver. The most common types in the United States and most of the rest of the world are hepatitis A, hepatitis B and hepatitis C. Each one is caused by a virus that infects the liver. Most people contract hepatitis A by consuming contaminated food or water. Hepatitis B usually comes from exposure to an infected person’s bodily fluids during sex or while sharing needles or razors. The most common type, hepatitis C, also comes from exposure to bodily fluids.
While each type of hepatitis is treated differently and has its own distinct symptoms, there are some early symptoms that you may experience no matter which type you have. Some of these may mirror symptoms of other illnesses, like the flu or a common cold.
The most important thing to do is visit your doctor if you experience these symptoms, especially if you think you’ve been exposed to someone who has any form of hepatitis. Symptoms typically appear between two weeks and up to four months after exposure, though some people, especially younger ones, may not experience any symptoms at all.
Nausea and Vomiting
Nausea and vomiting are common warning signs of all forms of hepatitis. While they can also be signs of other problems, ranging from the flu to food poisoning, if you find yourself nauseous or throwing up suddenly for no reason, talk to your doctor. This is especially important if you think you’ve been exposed to hepatitis through sexual activity or needle sharing.
Yellowing of the Skin and Eyes
One symptom that isn’t easy to mistake for a more common illness is jaundice, or the yellowing of the skin and the whites of the eyes. This occurs when the liver puts out too much bilirubin, a type of pigment that’s in bile. While hepatitis is one of the most common causes of jaundice, alcohol, some medications, gallstones, certain types of cancer and rare diseases may also cause it.
Changes in Urine and Feces
If you notice changes when you go to the bathroom, you should always let your doctor know, especially if these changes don’t go away. Hepatitis can cause your urine to appear darker than normal. You may also find that your feces looks like it’s the color of clay when you have a bowel movement.
Loss of Appetite
If you don’t feel like eating, it could be a sign of numerous issues, both mild and serious. It can also be a warning sign of hepatitis, especially if it doesn’t go away after a couple of days. If you happen to smoke, you may even find that you can no longer stand the taste of a cigarette in your mouth.
Because hepatitis is a virus that leads to infection, you may experience a fever. However, it may not be a very high fever. If you have a low-grade fever — between 98.8 and 100.8 degrees Fahrenheit — that doesn’t go away, talk to your doctor, especially if you feel you’re at risk for contracting hepatitis.
Another common sign of all types of hepatitis is pain, particularly in the abdomen. If you have stomach pain that you can’t explain, see your doctor. You may also find that you experience pain in other parts of your body, particularly in the joints. For some people, this can also manifest as a general feeling of being unwell or having flu-like body aches.
As with any type of infection or virus, fatigue and hepatitis often go hand-in-hand. But because it’s normal for almost everyone to feel tired at some point during the week, it can be hard to detect and easy to write off as something normal. If you feel that you’re more tired than usual or you feel weak and taking some time to rest doesn’t help, talk to your doctor.