What is hepatitis B?

Hepatitis B is a liver disease. Hepatitis * means inflammation of the liver. Inflammation is the painful, red swelling that results when tissues of the body become injured or infected. Inflammation can cause organs to not work properly.

What causes hepatitis B?

The hepatitis B virus causes hepatitis B. Viruses are germs that can cause sickness. For example, the flu is caused by a virus. People can pass viruses to each other.

Who gets hepatitis B?

Anyone can get hepatitis B, but some people are at higher risk, including:

  • people who were born to a mother with hepatitis B
  • people who live with someone who has hepatitis B
  • people who have lived in parts of the world where hepatitis B is common
  • people who are exposed to blood or body fluids at work
  • people on hemodialysis
  • people who have had more than one sex partner in the last 6 months or have a history of sexually transmitted disease
  • injection drug users
  • men who have sex with men

How could I get hepatitis B?

You could get hepatitis B through contact with an infected person’s blood, semen, or other body fluid.

You could get hepatitis B from:

  • being born to a mother with hepatitis B
  • having sex with an infected person
  • being tattooed or pierced with unsterilized tools that were used on an infected person
  • getting an accidental needle stick with a needle that was used on an infected person
  • using an infected person’s razor or toothbrush
  • sharing drug needles with an infected person

What are the symptoms of hepatitis B?

Hepatitis B usually has no symptoms. Adults and children ages 5 and older sometimes have one or more of the following symptoms:

  • yellowish eyes and skin, called jaundice
  • a longer than usual amount of time for bleeding to stop
  • swollen stomach or ankles
  • easy bruising
  • tiredness
  • upset stomach
  • fever
  • loss of appetite
  • diarrhea
  • light-colored stools
  • dark yellow urine

What is chronic hepatitis B?

Hepatitis B is chronic when the body can’t get rid of the hepatitis B virus. Children, especially infants, are more likely to get chronic hepatitis B, which usually has no symptoms until signs of liver damage appear. Without treatment, chronic hepatitis B can cause scarring of the liver, called cirrhosis; liver cancer; and liver failure.

Symptoms of cirrhosis include:

  • yellowish eyes and skin, called jaundice
  • a longer than usual amount of time for bleeding to stop
  • swollen stomach or ankles
  • tiredness
  • nausea
  • weakness
  • loss of appetite
  • weight loss
  • spider-like blood vessels, called spider angiomas, that develop on the skin

How is hepatitis B diagnosed?

Hepatitis B is diagnosed through blood tests, which can also show if you have chronic hepatitis B or another type of hepatitis. Your doctor may suggest getting a liver biopsy if chronic hepatitis B is suspected. A liver biopsy is a test for liver damage. The doctor uses a needle to remove a tiny piece of liver, which is then looked at with a microscope.

How is hepatitis B treated?

Hepatitis B usually is not treated unless it becomes chronic. Chronic hepatitis B is treated with drugs that slow or stop the virus from damaging the liver. The length of treatment varies. Your doctor will help you decide which drug or drug combination is likely to work for you and will closely watch your symptoms to make sure treatment is working.

Drugs given by shots include:

  • interferon
  • peginterferon

Drugs taken by mouth include:

  • lamivudine
  • telbivudine
  • adefovir
  • entecavir

Liver Transplantation

A liver transplant may be necessary if chronic hepatitis B causes liver failure. Liver transplantation surgery replaces a failed liver with a healthy one from a donor. Medicines taken after surgery can prevent hepatitis B from coming back.

What should I do if I think I have been exposed to the hepatitis B virus?

See your doctor right away if you think you have been exposed to the hepatitis B virus. The first shot of the hepatitis B vaccine taken with a medicine called hepatitis B immune globulin may prevent you from getting sick.

If you are at higher risk of hepatitis B, get tested. Many people do not know they are infected. Early diagnosis and treatment can help prevent liver