What hepatitis does to your liver

Hepatitis can last a few months, or the rest of your life.

Acute hepatitis

When you only have hepatitis for a short time, we call it "acute". The virus might make you sick for a few months but then you will likely get better. Some people may feel unwell. But most people do not get seriously ill if they have acute hepatitis.

Chronic hepatitis

It's possible to have hepatitis for more than 6 months. If you have hepatitis B or C, it can become “chronic”, meaning the virus stays in your body for a long time. You may not feel sick, but over time the virus can harm your liver and stop it working properly.

Over a long time, this damage can lead to scarring. We call this "fibrosis". If the liver is severely scarred, this is called "cirrhosis", and it affects the blood supply to the liver.  If you have a lot of scarring, the liver stops working. This is liver failure. If you have cirrhosis, you are more likely to get liver cancer. It can also lead to problems in the rest of your body.


Liver check-ups

Liver check-ups could save your life.

Hepatitis B and C can cause cirrhosis, liver failure or liver cancer. Even if you feel well, you should have check-ups to see if you need treatment.

When you get a liver check-up, you'll first have a blood test. This measures how well your liver is working. You might also need:

  • an ultrasound elastography (such as Fibroscan®) to check for liver stiffness
  • a liver ultrasound to check that the liver tissue looks healthy, and to look for liver cancer
  • a liver biopsy. This is where the doctor takes a sample of your liver tissue to look at it more closely.

These test results help your doctor to decide whether you need treatment for your liver. Treatment can slow down the damage and sometimes helps your liver heal. Your doctor may also ask you to have liver check-ups every 3, 6 or 12 months. This is to keep track of your liver’s health.

What should I do now?

If your doctor has just told you that you have hepatitis, here are some questions you might want to ask:

  • How did I get hepatitis?
  • What is hepatitis?
  • What symptoms might I get?
  • Do I need to tell anyone?
  • Should my partner/household contacts get vaccinated?
  • What tests do I need? Will I need to have tests forever?
  • Will I need treatment? What does that look like?
  • Can I be cured?
  • Do I need to see a specialist doctor?
  • What can I do to look after my liver?
  • What happens if I fall pregnant?

You might also like to bring someone for support when you see the doctor.


Acute vs. Chronic Hepatitis B, Hepatitis B Foundation

Acute Hepatitis, Timothy J. Schaefer; Savio John.

FibroScan, Gastroenterological Society of Australia

Ultrasound, healthdirect

Liver Biopsy, healthdirect


Page updated 5 September 2022