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Toxic Hepatitis

  • Cynthia M. Johnson, MA
Publication Type:


Toxic Hepatitis

(Drug-Induced Hepatitis)


Hepatitis is inflammation of the liver. Toxic hepatitis is when it happens due to medicine or exposure to toxic chemicals. It can be deadly without treatment.


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A major job of the liver is to process and break down foreign substances contained in the blood, including nutrients and chemicals. Some chemicals or drugs that are hard for the liver to process can damage it and cause inflammation.

Some substances linked to toxic hepatitis are:

  • Medications:
  • Herbs and dietary supplements:
    • Comfrey
    • Kava
    • Mistletoe
    • Certain combinations of traditional Chinese medical herbs
    • High doses of vitamin A
    • Certain dietary supplements for weight loss
  • Chemicals:
    • Alcohol
    • Polychlorinated biphenyls
    • Chloroform
    • Phosphorous
    • Dimethylformamide
    • Carbon tetrachloride

Risk Factors

The way the liver processes drugs and chemicals varies from person to person. Not everyone will become sick from the same substance. But exposure to large amounts of one or more toxins can raise the risk of toxic hepatitis. People who drink excess alcohol or have liver disease are at increased risk when exposed.


Symptoms of toxic hepatitis are:

  • Yellowing of the eyes and skin
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Dark or brown-colored stools
  • White or light-colored stools
  • Lack of hunger
  • Pain in the upper right part of the belly
  • Dark or tea-colored urine
  • Itching


The doctor will ask about symptoms and past health. You will also be asked about your use of medicines and exposure to any chemicals. A physical exam will be done.

There is no specific test to diagnose every type of toxic hepatitis. A blood test will be done to check liver function. A sample of the liver may be taken for testing. This can be done with a biopsy.


The goal of treatment is to stop inflammation of the liver before it causes permanent liver damage. The substance causing toxic hepatitis will need to be avoided or stopped. Symptoms usually go away in a few days or weeks once this is done. Emergency care may be needed to ease symptoms during this time.

People with severe liver damage may need a liver transplant .


Exposure to toxic substances at work can be prevented by wearing protective clothing and gear. People who are at risk due to liver disease should check with their doctor for a list of medicines to avoid.





  • Drug-induced liver injury. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/drug-induced-liver-injury.
  • Liver injury caused by drugs. Merck Manual Professional Version website. Available at: https://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/hepatic-and-biliary-disorders/drugs-and-the-liver/liver-injury-caused-by-drugs.
  • Toxic hepatitis. UCSF Health website. Available at: https://www.ucsfhealth.org/conditions/toxic-hepatitis.


  • David L. Horn, MD, FACP
Last Updated:

This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.