Hepatitis B

Definition

Hepatitis B is irritation and swelling (inflammation) of the liver due to infection with the hepatitis B virus (HBV).

Other types of viral hepatitis include:

Causes

Hepatitis B infection is caused by the hepatitis B virus (HBV).You can catch hepatitis B through contact with the blood or body fluids (such as semen, vaginal fluids, and saliva) of a person who has the virus.

Exposure may occur:

People who may be at risk of hepatitis B are those who:

Symptoms

After you first become infected with the hepatitis B virus:

Symptoms of hepatitis B may not appear for up to 6 months after the time of infection. Early symptoms include:

Symptoms will go away in a few weeks to months if your body is able to fight off the infection. Some people never get rid of the hepatitis B virus. This is called chronic hepatitis B.

People with chronic hepatitis may not have symptoms and not know they are infected. Over time, they may develop symptoms of liver damage and cirrhosis of the liver.

You can spread the hepatitis B virus to other people even if you have no symptoms.

Exams and Tests

A series of blood tests called the hepatitis viral panel is done to help diagnose the condition.

The following tests are done to look for liver damage if you have chronic hepatitis B:

You will also have a test to measure the level of HBV in your blood (viral load). This lets your doctors know how your treatment is working.

 

Treatment

Acute hepatitis needs no treatment other than careful monitoring of liver and other body functions with blood tests. You should get plenty of bed rest, drink plenty of fluids, and eat healthy foods.

Some patients with chronic hepatitis may be treated with antiviral medications or a medication called peginterferon. These medications can decrease or remove hepatitis B from the blood and reduce the risk of cirrhosis and liver cancer. It is not always clear which patients with chronic hepatitis B should receive drug therapy and when drug therapy should be started. You are more likely to receive these medicines if:

If you develop rapid liver failure, you may need a liver transplant. A liver transplant is the only cure in some cases of liver failure.

Other recommendations:

Severe liver damage, or cirrhosis, can be caused by hepatitis B.

Support Groups

Some people benefit from attending a liver disease support group.

Outlook (Prognosis)

The acute illness usually goes away after 2 - 3 weeks. The liver usually returns to normal within 4 - 6 months in most people.

Almost all newborns and about half of children who get hepatitis B develop the chronic condition. Very few adults who get the virus develop chronic hepatitis B.

About 1 in 100 people who get hepatitis B dies from the condition.

There is a much higher rate of liver cancer in people who have chronic hepatitis B.

 

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Call your health care provider if:

Prevention

Children and people at high risk for hepatitis B should get the hepatitis B vaccine.

All blood used for blood transfusions is screened, so the chance of getting the virus in this way is very small.

The hepatitis B vaccine or a hepatitis immune globulin (HBIG) shot may help prevent infection if you receive it within 24 hours of contact with the virus.

Measures to avoid contact with blood and body fluids can help prevent the spread of hepatitis B from person to person.

 

Review Date: 11/25/2012
Reviewed By: George F. Longstreth, MD, Department of Gastroenterology, Kaiser Permanente Medical Care Program, San Diego, California. Also reviewed by A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc., Editorial Team: David Zieve, MD, MHA, David R. Eltz, Stephanie Slon, and Nissi Wang.

This information should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. © 1997- 2007 A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.