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Acute hepatitis

Hepatitis Vall d´Hebron


Acute hepatitis consists of an acute inflammation of the liver that makes the liver not work properly. This is normally brought on by a virus, pharmaceuticals or other toxins.

The symptoms are very varied and often go unnoticed. The most common are fatigue, poor appetite, nausea, muscle pain and fever. Occasionally, a yellow tinge appears in the whites of the eyes and the skin (jaundice), and urine becomes dark in colour (choluria). Symptoms may persist for one to three months before recovery. Hepatitis B and C may become chronic.


Who is affected by the condition?

Hepatitis A affects children and young people. Thanks to improvements in health and hygiene in our country, the disease now quite rare. It may be found in patients who have recently visited countries with greater incidence of the disease and in people who have had contact with them.  As previously mentioned, the means of transmission is faecal-oral and it generally clears up with no complications.

Hepatitis B is transmitted in the majority of cases through sexual contact or by exchange of blood (drug addicts use of needles).  Transmission via blood transfusion is currently very regulated and virtually never happens. In areas where the disease is very prevalent (mainly Asian countries) the most common means of transmission of hepatitis B is from mother to child during pregnancy or childbirth (vertical transmission). In these cases of vertical transmission, if adequate treatment is not administered, hepatitis B becomes chronic in more than 90% of cases.

Toxic hepatitis is caused by exposure to substances which are harmful to the liver. These toxins may be pharmaceuticals, natural products or others. In some instances the connection between the toxin and the hepatitis is very well documented and is predictable. In other instances an unexpected reaction takes place (idiosyncrasy). Finally, there are pharmaceuticals that do not produce hepatic toxicity unless they are used in much higher doses than normal (for example paracetamol).



Diagnosis is mainly clinical (observation of jaundice, dark urine) and from lab results (elevated liver enzymes and positive viral detection).

In addition, during the development of the disease the appearance or development of antibodies specific to each virus is detected, which determine the response of the patient and whether or not the condition becomes chronic.

An abdominal ultrasound allows us to see if there are any complications stemming from the acute hepatitis and to exclude other causes that might produce similar symptoms.


Standard treatment:

In general no specific treatment is needed for acute hepatitis except in some cases produced by hepatitis B and C viruses. Extreme personal hygiene is important to avoid contagion to others.

No specific diet is recommended (alcohol must always be avoided). Nor is total bed rest necessary (physical activity should be adapted to the patients general condition).


Standard tests:

Basically these consist of analyses to show the status and development of the liver and how the patient is responding to treatment. Blood analyses can also reveal to what extent the condition is becoming chronic.



 The best possible treatment for the A and B viruses is vaccination (included in the routine vaccination schedule). No vaccine is currently available for the C virus.

 Hepatitis A is transmitted by faecal-oral contact (contaminated food and drink and from person to person). Food hygiene is fundamental here.

 Barrier contraception methods (the condom) can prevent the transmission of sexually transmitted diseases (including hepatitis B and C).

 In countries where the disease is very prevalent, many pregnant women may have the disease and transmit it to their child during the final phase of the pregnancy or the delivery. The use of +/- gamma globulin early vaccination against the hepatitis B virus can prevent infection in children.

 Toxic hepatitis is prevented with caution to the exposure of the various toxins involved.

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