Skip to Content
Learn about the newest hep C treatment. Watch video >>

Hepatitis B

What is hepatitis B?

Hepatitis B is inflammation of the liver caused by hepatitis B virus (HBV) infection. The infection is called acute when a person first becomes infected. The infection becomes chronic when a person has symptoms for 6 months or longer.

How is HBV spread?

HBV spreads through contact with infected blood or body fluids, such as saliva (spit). HBV can enter your body through a cut or scratch or through your mucus membranes. HBV can live on objects and surfaces for 7 days or longer. HBV can also spread from a mother to her child during birth.

What increases my risk for hepatitis B?

  • A stick from an infected needle, including for illegal drugs and for procedures such as tattooing

  • An object with infected blood or body fluids on it touches your wound

  • Unprotected sex with someone who has hepatitis B, sex with more than one partner, or you are a man who has sex with men

  • Close contact with an infected person

  • Travel to areas in the world where HBV is common

  • Living or working in a long-term care facility or correctional facility

  • Rarely, a blood, organ, or tissue transplant from an infected donor

What are the signs and symptoms of hepatitis B?

You may have no signs or symptoms and may not know you have been infected. Once you are infected with HBV, it can take from 1 to 6 months before symptoms develop. You may have any of the following:

  • Dark urine or pale bowel movements

  • Fatigue and weakness

  • Fever

  • Loss of appetite, nausea, and vomiting

  • Jaundice (yellow skin or eyes), itchy skin, or skin rash

  • Joint pain and body aches

  • Pain in the right upper side of your abdomen

How is hepatitis B diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will ask about your signs and symptoms and any health problems you have. Tell him if you have other infections, such as HIV or hepatitis C. Tell him if you drink alcohol or use any illegal drugs. He may also ask about your sex partners. You may need any of the following tests:

  • Blood tests are used to show if you are infected with HBV and to check liver function.

  • An ultrasound may be done to check for signs of HBV and to look for other liver problems.

  • A liver biopsy is used to test a sample of your liver for swelling, scarring, and other damage. A liver biopsy may help healthcare providers learn if you need treatment for HBV.

How is hepatitis B treated?

Hepatitis B may last a short time and go away on its own without treatment. It may also become chronic, leading to liver damage and disease. If needed, the goal of treatment is to prevent the disease from getting worse and leading to more serious liver problems. Treatment may also help improve the function of your liver and decrease your symptoms. You may need any of the following:

  • Medicines may be given to help fight HBC or keep it from spreading in your body.

  • A plasma or platelet transfusion may be needed if your blood is not clotting as it should. Plasma and platelets are parts of your blood that help your blood clot. You will get the transfusion through an IV.

  • A liver transplant is surgery to replace your diseased liver with a donor liver. You may need a liver transplant if you have severe liver disease or liver failure.

How can I prevent the spread of HBV?

  • Cover any open cuts or scratches. If blood from a wound gets on a surface, clean the surface with bleach right away. Put on gloves before you clean. Throw away any items with blood or body fluids on them, as directed by your healthcare provider.

  • Do not share personal items. These items include toothbrushes, nail clipper, and razors. Do not share needles.

  • Tell household members that you have HBV. People who live with you should be vaccinated against HBV. If they have not been vaccinated, they may need to start treatment to help prevent infection. Regular handwashing is important for you and everyone in your home. Everyone should wash after the bathroom and before eating.

  • Tell your sex partners that you have HBV. Use a condom during sex. Even if you have acute HBV and your infection goes away, you can still spread the virus for up to 6 months.

  • Protect your baby. If you are pregnant, ask your healthcare provider for more information on keeping your baby from getting HBV. He will need a vaccination or treatment if you plan to breastfeed.

  • Do not donate blood, organs, or tissues. Donations are screened for HBV, but it is best not to donate at all.

What can I do to manage hepatitis B?

  • Do not drink alcohol. Alcohol can increase liver damage. Talk to your healthcare provider if you drink alcohol and need help to stop.

  • Do not smoke. Nicotine can damage blood vessels and make it more difficult to manage hepatitis B. Smoking can also lead to more liver damage. Do not use e-cigarettes or smokeless tobacco in place of cigarettes or to help you quit. They still contain nicotine. Ask your healthcare provider for information if you currently smoke and need help quitting.

  • Eat a variety of healthy foods. Healthy foods include fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy products, beans, lean meats and fish, and whole-grain breads. Ask if you need to be on a special diet.

  • Drink more liquids. Liquids help your liver function properly. Ask your healthcare provider how much liquid to drink each day and which liquids are best for you.

What are the risks of hepatitis B?

Even with treatment, hepatitis B can damage your liver. You may develop cirrhosis or portal hypertension (increased pressure in the vein that goes to your liver) or liver failure. If you need cancer treatment or take certain other medicines, hepatitis B may return or get worse. This includes medicines you take after an organ or bone marrow transplant or to treat HIV or autoimmune disorders. Liver disease may lead to increased pressure in your brain.

When should I seek immediate care?

  • You have a sudden, severe headache and head pressure.

  • You have new or increased bruising or red or purple dots on your skin. You may also have bleeding that does not stop easily.

  • Your abdomen is swollen.

  • You have severe nausea or cannot stop vomiting.

  • You see blood in your urine or bowel movements, or you vomit blood.

  • You have new or increased yellowing of your skin or the whites of your eyes.

  • You have severe pain in your upper abdomen.

When should I contact my healthcare provider?

  • The palms of your hands are red.

  • You have a fever.

  • You have new or increased swelling in your legs, ankles, or feet.

  • Your muscles get smaller and weaker.

  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

© 2015 Truven Health Analytics Inc. Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or Truven Health Analytics.

Learn more about Hepatitis B