Hepatitis B Symptoms & Treatments
Hepatitis is a group of viruses that causes liver inflammation and damage. This condition may be acute (lasting less than 6 months) or chronic (lasting longer than 6 months). Adults with acute hepatitis B usually recover fully. However, chronic hepatitis B increases your risk of developing liver failure, liver cancer, or cirrhosis.
Infants and children 5 years old or younger who are infected with the hepatitis B virus (HBV) are much more likely to develop chronic hepatitis B than are adults. That’s why it’s vitally important for newborns to receive the hepatitis B vaccine.
Since 1991, when doctors first recommended that children in the US receive the hepatitis B vaccine, the incidence of new hepatitis B infections has decreased by 82 percent. The vaccine can prevent hepatitis B, but there's no cure if you’re already infected.
Chronic hepatitis B is more common in other parts of the world than in the United States, specifically South and Central America, Eastern Europe, Africa, Asia, and parts of the Middle East.
The hepatitis B virus (HBV) is transmitted from person to person through blood, semen, vaginal secretions, or other body fluids. Risk factors for developing this condition include:
- Having unprotected sex with multiple partners or an infected partner
- Sharing needles during intravenous (IV) drug use
- Having a job that exposes you to human blood and accidental needle sticks, such as a health care worker
- Men who have sex with men
- Being an infant born to an infected mother
- Living with and caring for someone who has a chronic HBV infection
- Traveling to parts of the world with high HBV infection rates
Some people with hepatitis B do not experience symptoms. For those who do, symptoms usually appear about one to four months after you've been infected. They may include:
- Dark urine
- Nausea and vomiting
- Abdominal pain
- Gray- or clay-colored stools
- Loss of appetite
- Low-grade fever
- Joint pain
- Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes)
Complications of acute hepatitis B include a rare but severe and life-threating form of the disease known as fulminant hepatitis. Symptoms can occur suddenly, including abdominal swelling, jaundice, and fainting. Fulminant hepatitis can cause a brain condition called hepatic encephalopathy, which can result in confusion, hallucinations, extreme tiredness, extreme sleepiness, and coma.
Complications of chronic hepatitis B may include cirrhosis, liver failure, liver cancer, kidney disease, anemia, swollen blood vessels, and severe dehydration as a result of fluid loss associated with nausea, vomiting, and loss of appetite.
Based on your symptoms and risk factors, the doctor will order a blood test to detect the hepatitis B virus in your body and which type it is – acute or chronic.
Blood tests can also evaluate your liver functioning. If tests indicate that liver damage is present, your doctor may obtain a sample of your liver (biopsy) to determine the extent of scarring. Noninvasive tests, such as magnetic resonance elastography (MRE) or transient elastography (a type of ultrasound), may be used to assess the stiffness of the liver.
If you have acute hepatitis B, you may not need treatment. The condition lasts less than 6 months and will go away on its own. You may only need to treat the symptoms of the disease.
Treatment for chronic hepatitis B includes oral and injectable antiviral medications. These medications help keep the virus under control but cannot cure the disease (completely rid the body of the virus).
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