Key Points about Hepatitis B

  • Hepatitis B is a liver infection caused by a virus.
  • Your specialist can diagnose hepatitis A with a blood test, liver ultrasound or liver biopsy.
  • Acute hepatitis B infection doesn’t usually require any treatment.
  • Chronic hepatitis B infection typically requires long-term – or even lifelong – treatment with medications or liver transplant.


Hepatitis B is a severe liver infection. The hepatitis B virus, or HBV, causes this condition. In some cases, hepatitis B becomes chronic (long-lasting) and can lead to serious complications. These complications can include liver failure, cirrhosis or liver cancer. There is a hepatitis B vaccine available. You may want to consider getting the vaccine if you are at an increased risk of contracting HBV.

Hepatitis B causes

The virus, known as HBV, causes hepatitis B infection. Common ways that HBV spreads among people include:

  • Having sexual contact with someone who has HBV
  • Passed from mother to baby during childbirth
  • Regularly coming into contact with human blood, such as health care workers
  • Sharing illicit drug paraphernalia, including needles

Hepatitis B risk factors

The following factors can increase your risk of developing hepatitis B:

  • Being a male and having sexual contact with other males
  • Having a job that exposes you to human blood
  • Having sexual contact with someone who has HBV
  • Living with someone who has a chronic HBV infection
  • Sharing illicit drug paraphernalia
  • Traveling to areas with high HBV infection rates, such as the Pacific islanders, Asia, Africa and Eastern Europe

Hepatitis B symptoms

Signs and symptoms of hepatitis B vary in severity and typically appear one to four months after you’ve been infected with HBV. Signs and symptoms can include:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Dark-colored urine
  • Decreased appetite
  • Fatigue
  • Fever
  • Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes)
  • Joint pain
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Weakness

Hepatitis B diagnosis

Your specialist may use one or more of the following tests to diagnose hepatitis B:

  • Physical examination - your doctor will conduct a comprehensive physical exam, including asking you questions about your health history, lifestyle and symptoms specific to hepatitis B. Your doctor will also check for physical signs of hepatitis B infection, including yellowish skin or abdominal pain.
  • Blood tests - your doctor may order a blood test to determine if you have HBV. A blood test can also determine if your infection is acute (short-term) or chronic (long-lasting).
  • Liver ultrasound - ultrasound is a type of imaging that uses sound waves to create detailed images of the inside of your body. A liver ultrasound can determine how much liver damage you have due to the hepatitis B infection.
  • Liver biopsy - during this test, your doctor removes a small tissue sample (biopsy) from your liver for close analysis in the lab. Analysis can reveal whether or not you have liver damage.

Hepatitis B treatment

If you have an acute hepatitis B infection, you will not need treatment and your body will get rid of the virus on its own. You should rest, drink plenty of fluids and eat well while your body fights the infection.

If you have a chronic hepatitis B infection, you may need some type of treatment for the rest of your life. Your specialist may recommend one or more of the following treatment options.

Antiviral medications

Your specialist may prescribe an antiviral medication that can help your body fight the virus and minimize further liver damage. You take these medications orally in a pill form.

Interferon injections

Your specialist may prescribe interferon injections, which is a medication that helps the body fight infection. If you are young or are a woman who wants to become pregnant in the near future, your specialist may recommend interferon as a course of treatment.

Liver transplant

If the hepatitis B infection has severely damaged your liver, you may need to undergo a liver transplant. In this procedure, your surgeon removes your damaged liver and replaces it with a donor liver. In most cases, donor livers come from a deceased organ donor. Sometimes, a family member can donate a partial liver. 

When should I seek care?

If you experience any of these symptoms, start by voicing your concerns and symptoms to your primary care provider. From there, your doctor may suggest seeing a liver specialist for more specialized treatment.

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