The University of Chicago Medicine offers state of the art diagnosis and treatment of viral hepatitis. Our multidisciplinary team includes pharmacists, nurses and physicians, many of whom serve on national guidelines committees to ensure efficient, highly effective, patient-centered care for hepatitis.
What is Hepatitis?
Hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver. There are several different types of hepatitis, and some can cause lasting damage to your liver. Hepatitis symptoms generally include jaundice (yellow skin and eyes), belly or abdominal pain, loss of appetite, fatigue, dark urine, fever or chills, joint pain, upset stomach, vomiting, clay-colored stools and diarrhea.
Types of Hepatitis
Viral Hepatitis (A, B, C, D)
Hepatitis A is highly contagious and is usually spread when objects, food or drinks that are contaminated by the stool of an infected person come into contact with your mouth. The virus can also be contracted by having unprotected sex with someone who is infected. In most cases, hepatitis A does not cause a long-term infection; however, it may take weeks to months to fully recover. Some people, especially children under six years old, may have no symptoms.
The hepatitis A vaccine is recommended.
Hepatitis B is spread through contact with infected blood, vaginal fluid or semen. Babies can also catch the disease from infected mothers during childbirth. Because the virus can live for an extended time outside of the body, it can also be contracted by sharing razors, needles or accidentally pricking yourself on a syringe. Most adults can clear the virus out of their body in six months. However, children are more likely to develop long-term hepatitis B. This chronic infection can cause cirrhosis and liver cancer.
The hepatitis B vaccine is recommended.
Hepatitis C spreads through exposure to infected blood, which can happen if you share needles or razors with someone who’s infected, prick yourself with an infected syringe or have sex without a condom with someone who’s infected. Some people have immune systems capable of overcoming the initial infection; most people, however, go on to develop a long-term infection that can cause serious complications, including cirrhosis or liver cancer. Because hepatitis C causes mild, if any, symptoms, most people don’t realize they’re infected until they have liver problems. People born between 1945 and 1965, and anyone with risk factors for exposure, should be tested for hepatitis C.
There is no vaccine for hepatitis C.
Only people infected with hepatitis B can contract hepatitis D, which is spread through contact with bodily fluids like semen, blood, vaginal fluids and urine. Mothers may also spread the virus to their babies when giving birth. Hepatitis D, which is rare in the United States, cannot be cured.
Unlike the numerous viruses that can cause hepatitis, autoimmune hepatitis occurs when the immune system turns against the body’s own liver cells. Autoimmune hepatitis can lead to cirrhosis and liver cancer.
Your healthcare provider will give you a physical exam and ask about your past health. In order to diagnose hepatitis, your doctor may:
- Give you a blood test to look for infection-fighting cells (antibodies) specific to your hepatitis. If you have those antibodies, you may have an infection.
- Test your blood for abnormal levels of liver enzymes to see if your liver is damaged.
- Have you undergo an imaging scan, such as ultrasound, CT or MRI, to see your liver and check how it’s functioning.
- Order another type of scan called transient elastography to measure how much scarring or damage there is in your liver
- Recommend a liver biopsy, in which small tissue samples are taken from your liver with a needle. These samples are checked under a microscope to find out the amount and type of liver damage you have.
Your doctor will create a care plan with you based on your health, type of hepatitis, severity of symptoms, and how well you handle certain treatments. Your doctor may recommend:
- Stopping a medicine that might be causing liver damage.
- A liver transplant if your liver is severely damaged.
How Well Does Hepatitis Treatment Work?
Depending on the type of hepatitis you have, you may be able to be cured. Or, you may need to learn how to manage your hepatitis as a lifelong condition. If you have advanced liver disease, your doctor may recommend a liver transplant.
World-Renowned Liver Disease Specialists
With access to leading therapies and state-of-the-art technologies, our liver disease specialists work together to provide personalized care for each patient.Find a Liver Disease Specialist
Why Choose UChicago Medicine for Liver Disease Care
Our internationally renowned specialists have extensive expertise in treating common and complex liver diseases.
Coordinated, Collaborative Care
Some people with liver disease have related medical problems in other areas, such as diabetes, kidney disease or heart disease. At UChicago Medicine, all of our highly specialized physicians work under the same roof and are in continual communication with one another. Whether you need care from an endocrinologist, nephrologist, cardiologist, transplant surgeon or any other specialist, you can be assured that these specialists will collaborate on your behalf.
Personalized Approach to Care
Individually tailored treatment, personalized support and ongoing education help patients through the lengthy and often challenging journey of living with liver disease. Nurse specialists, physician assistants, social workers, registered dietitians and other members of our team have important roles supporting each patient and their family throughout treatment.
A Tradition of Excellence
Today’s UChicago Medicine physicians, researchers and members of our hepatology team build on more than eight decades of experience, discoveries and treatment innovations related to liver disease. Our team oversees many clinical trials of new therapies for liver disease.
Research & Clinical Trials
Research leads to better ways to treat, diagnose and even prevent liver disease. Members of our team are actively involved in research on two fronts: in the lab (basic research) and with patients (clinical research).
In the lab, scientists are focusing on hepatitis and other liver diseases at the cellular level. Deeper understanding about how liver disease develops and progresses can lead to more effective treatments.
Clinical research often has a more timely impact on treating liver disease. As one of the nation’s leading academic hospitals, UChicago Medicine offers many clinical trials for promising new therapies. Often, these clinical trials are open to individuals whose disease has relapsed or resisted standard treatments.
Liver Transplant Institute
The University of Chicago Medicine is one of the most experienced centers for liver transplantation. Our liver transplant program was established in 1984 — the first in the Midwest and only the fourth liver transplant program in the U.S. at that time. Over the decades, transplant surgeons here have made innovations that have revolutionized liver transplantation, particularly in the area of living-donor transplant.
Ranked Among the Nation's Best
The University of Chicago Medicine has one of the premier gastroenterology and hepatology programs in the United States. Year after year, our GI program is ranked among the nation’s best for treating digestive system disorders.