What is hepatitis B?
Hepatitis is a redness and swelling (inflammation) of the liver. It sometimes causes
permanent liver damage.
There are several types of hepatitis. In hepatitis B, the liver is infected with the
hepatitis B virus. This causes inflammation. The liver isn’t able to work the way
The liver is a large organ that lies up under the ribs on the right side of your belly
(abdomen). It helps filter waste from your body, makes a fluid called bile to help
digest food, and stores sugar that your body uses for energy.
In the U.S., hepatitis B is one of the most common diseases that can be prevented
with a vaccine.
Hepatitis B can be short-term (acute) or long-term (chronic). It tends to become chronic
most often in infants and young children, and less often in people infected as adults.
- Acute hepatitis B. This is a brief infection (6 months or less) that goes away because the body gets
rid of the virus.
- Chronic hepatitis B. This is a long-lasting infection that happens when your body can’t get rid of the
virus. It causes long-term liver damage.
What causes hepatitis B?
Hepatitis B is caused by infection with the hepatitis B virus. People pass the hepatitis
B virus to each other. This happens when you come into contact with another person’s
- Vaginal secretions
Common ways this virus is spread are through:
- Needle sticks
- Sharp instruments
- Shared razors and toothbrushes
- Unprotected sex with an infected person
- Sharing drug supplies
Babies may also get the disease if their mother has the virus. Infected children can
spread the virus to other children if they play together often or if a child has many
scrapes or cuts. But body fluids need to come in contact to spread the virus. So just
playing next to a friend will not give someone hepatitis B.
Who is at risk for hepatitis B?
Anyone can get hepatitis B by coming into contact with the blood or body fluids of
someone who is infected with hepatitis B.
Some people are at higher risk for getting hepatitis B. They include:
- Children born to mothers who have hepatitis B
- People from Asian and Pacific Island nations
- People living in long-term care facilities or who are disabled
- People living in households where someone is infected with the virus
- People who have a blood-clotting disorder, such as hemophilia
- People who need dialysis for kidney failure
- People who use IV (intravenous) drugs
- People who have unprotected heterosexual or homosexual sex, especially if they have
many sex partners
- People who have a job where they are in contact with human blood, body fluids, or
- People who work or live in a prison
- People who had blood transfusions, blood products, or organ transplants before the
- People taking medicines that weaken (suppress) the body’s infection-fighting system
- People with HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) or hepatitis C infections
Pregnant women should be tested for hepatitis B.
What are the symptoms of hepatitis B?
Hepatitis B has a wide range of symptoms. It may be mild, without symptoms, or it
may cause chronic hepatitis. In some cases, hepatitis B can lead to liver failure
Each person’s symptoms may vary. The most common symptoms of hepatitis B include:
- Loss of appetite
- Extreme tiredness (fatigue)
- Muscle soreness
- Yellowing of the skin and eyes (jaundice)
- Dark urine
- Clay colored or light colored stools
- Belly (abdominal) pain
- Easy bleeding and bruising
- Swollen belly from fluid
The symptoms of hepatitis B may look like other health problems. Always see your healthcare
provider to be sure.
How is hepatitis B diagnosed?
To see if you have hepatitis B, your healthcare provider will give you a physical
exam and do a blood test.
If your healthcare provider suspects chronic hepatitis B, he or she may take a small
tissue sample (biopsy) from your liver with a needle. These samples are checked under
a microscope to find out the type of liver disease and how severe it is.
An ultrasound test is usually done as well to see if the liver looks very diseased.
How is hepatitis B treated?
Hepatitis B is not treated unless it becomes a long-term (chronic) infection. Then
medicines are used to try to slow down or stop the virus from damaging the liver.
Most people get medicines they can take by mouth (orally). But some people get an
injection. The decision to treat is complicated and based on many things. These include
test results and how advanced your disease is.
Your symptoms will be closely watched and managed as needed. If severe liver damage
occurs, you may need a liver transplant.
There is no cure for hepatitis B. Treatment is helpful to decrease the amount of virus
in your blood and decrease risk of complications.
What are the complications of hepatitis B?
Long-term or chronic hepatitis B can cause severe liver damage. The most severe liver
damage is called cirrhosis. The liver stops working properly. This could lead to the
need for a liver transplant.
Liver failure can lead to death.
The risk of liver cancer is higher in people with hepatitis B.
What can I do to prevent hepatitis B?
A vaccine is available to prevent hepatitis B. It is given in 3 shots (injections)
over 6 months. The vaccine is suggested for everyone age 18 years and younger, as
well as for adults over age 18 who are at risk for the infection.
You can protect yourself and others from hepatitis B by:
- Using condoms during sex
- Making sure any tattoos or body piercings are done with tools that have been cleaned
properly and do not have any germs (sterile)
- Not sharing needles and other drug supplies
- Not sharing toothbrushes or razors
- Not touching another person’s blood or body fluids unless you wear gloves
- Hepatitis B is a redness and swelling (inflammation) of the liver. It sometimes causes
permanent liver damage.
- Hepatitis B is caused by infection with the hepatitis B virus.
- People pass the hepatitis B virus to each other through infected blood and body fluids
such as semen, vaginal secretions, and saliva.
- You can protect yourself by using condoms during sex, not sharing needles, and not
sharing toothbrushes or razors.
- A vaccine is available to prevent hepatitis B.
Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your healthcare provider:
- Know the reason for your visit and what you want to happen.
- Before your visit, write down questions you want answered.
- Bring someone with you to help you ask questions and remember what your provider tells
- At the visit, write down the name of a new diagnosis, and any new medicines, treatments,
or tests. Also write down any new instructions your provider gives you.
- Know why a new medicine or treatment is prescribed, and how it will help you. Also
know what the side effects are.
- Ask if your condition can be treated in other ways.
- Know why a test or procedure is recommended and what the results could mean.
- Know what to expect if you do not take the medicine or have the test or procedure.
- If you have a follow-up appointment, write down the date, time, and purpose for that
- Know how you can contact your provider if you have questions.