Inflammation of the liver, or hepatitis, can occur due to viral infection, severe bacterial infections, use of certain prescription drugs, or exposure to toxins. Heavy alcohol use may be among the most common causes of inflammation of the liver. Viral hepatitis, as well as other viral diseases, can also cause inflammation of the liver. Liver inflammation may be acute, meaning that it resolves within six months, or chronic, meaning that symptoms extend for longer than six months. Acute hepatitis usually resolves on its own with no long-term effects, while chronic liver inflammation can lead to serious liver damage and cancer.
Alcohol abuse may be the most common cause of inflammation of the liver and cirrhosis. Alcohol is toxic to liver cells, as are the by-products produced when the body metabolizes alcohol. Persons who consume large amounts of alcohol daily are at risk for liver damage, liver inflammation, and cirrhosis.
Viral infection is another common cause of liver inflammation. There are believed to be five types of infectious hepatitis viruses, referred to as hepatitis A, B, C, D and E. Hepatitis D and hepatitis E can only generally infect those already infected with hepatitis A, B, or C.
Hepatitis A usually causes acute infection. While the virus is highly contagious and can spread to others, symptoms usually clear up on their own within six months. Hepatitis A can make people feel very ill, but it's rarely deadly.
Hepatitis B and C can develop into chronic inflammation of the liver, causing symptoms for longer than six months. These viral liver diseases are usually treated with interferon. They can spread easily through sexual contact, or direct contact with the infected person's bodily fluids. A vaccine is available to prevent hepatitis B infection, but no such vaccine is currently available to protect against hepatitis C. Persons suffering chronic hepatitis B or C are generally at an increased risk of liver cancer or cirrhosis.
Some bacterial infections and amoebic infections can also cause inflammation of the liver. Viral diseases such as cytomegalovirus or glandular fever can affect the liver. Toadstool poisoning, which can occur with exposure to certain fungal toxins, can cause inflammation of the liver. Use of certain medications, such as halothane or paracetamol, can cause inflammation of the liver. When liver inflammation does not become chronic, and does not cause cirrhosis or scarring of the liver, then treatment can usually restore full liver function.