Skip to main content

Are the symptoms the same for hepatitis B and C?

Medically reviewed by Leigh Ann Anderson, PharmD. Last updated on July 18, 2021.

Official answer

by Drugs.com

Symptoms for hepatitis B and hepatitis C are very similar and can range from minor to life-threatening. Both viruses begin as an acute infection, but can become chronic with the virus remaining in your body and leading to long-term liver problems like cirrhosis (scarring of the liver) and liver cancer.

A simple blood test is all that is needed for a diagnosis for either hepatitis B or C, although some people may need a liver biopsy or an ultrasound to evaluate the level of liver damage or to look for signs of cancer.

Symptoms of hepatitis B virus

Symptoms for acute hepatitis B virus typically appear about 1 to 4 months after exposure and may resemble the flu. Most people with acute hepatitis B develop no symptoms. Symptoms may include:

  • fatigue (feeling tired)
  • fever
  • loss of appetite
  • nausea, vomiting
  • stomach pain
  • joint or muscle pain

Symptoms from liver involvement can include:

  • dark urine
  • clay-colored stools
  • yellow-colored skin or eye sclera (jaundice)

Chronic (long-lasting) hepatitis B is a lifelong infection and occurs in about 5% of patients who contract the virus. Infants and children are more likely to develop a chronic hepatitis B infection, but symptoms may not appear as frequently.

Up to 25% of people who develop chronic infection will develop serious liver conditions, such as cirrhosis (scarring of the liver), liver failure, or liver cancer.

Those with chronic hepatitis B do not typically have symptoms or feel ill, and can remain symptom free for 30 years or more. If symptoms appear, they are similar to the symptoms of acute infection listed above, but can be at a more advanced stage of liver impairment.

Acquiring hepatitis B during international travel is a possibility in certain regions, so review the CDC guidelines and talk to your doctor for recommendations before travel. If you know you have been exposed to hepatitis B, contact your doctor immediately within 24 hours as you may be able to receive a preventive treatment

Symptoms of hepatitis C virus (HCV)

Symptoms for HCV may not appear for 20 to 30 years, and that is why it is so important to get tested. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) now recommends that all adults 18 years and older are tested at least once for HCV. Some high risk groups may need more frequent testing, and all pregnant women should be tested during every pregnancy.

HCV can actually clear itself from the body in about 15% of people, but most people become infected with the virus chronically.

Early symptoms of acute HCV occur within 1 to 3 months and may last several weeks. These may include:

  • yellow-colored skin or eye sclera (jaundice)
  • weakness
  • fever
  • fatigue
  • poor appetite
  • nausea and stomach pain
  • joint or muscle pain

Chronic, long-term symptoms of HCV can include weight loss, fluid build-up and swelling, poor appetite, fatigue, easy bruising and bleeding, itchy skin, jaundice, dark-colored urine, confusion, drowsiness and slurred speech (hepatic encephalopathy), and spider-like blood vessels on the skin (spider angiomas).

How are hepatitis B and C treated?

  • Antiviral medications, interferon injections and a liver transplant are options for treatment of ongoing infections. Not everyone will need these treatments.
  • Medicines known as direct-acting antiviral agents (DAAs) are now available that can lead to a cure in 8 to 12 weeks in many patients with hepatitis C, but hepatitis B may require long-term treatment.
  • There is a vaccine that is used to prevent hepatitis B infection in both adults and newborns, but there is no vaccine yet for hepatitis C.

The newer direct-acting antiviral agents (DAAs) medications to treat HCV include:

  • Epclusa (sofosbuvir and velpatasvir)
  • Harvoni (ledipasvir and sofosbuvir)
  • Mavyret (glecaprevir and pibrentasvir)
  • Sovaldi (sofosbuvir) - used with other antivirals (usually ribavirin +/- peginterferon alfa)
  • Vosevi (sofosbuvir, velpatasvir and voxilaprevir)
  • Zepatier (elbasvir and grazoprevir)

Treatment length can vary from 8 to 24 weeks depending upon factors such as the patient’s liver function, HCV genotype, resistance testing, and whether the patient is just starting treatment or has received treatment in the past.

Always discuss your treatment options with your healthcare provider.

References

Related medical questions

Related support groups