Hepatitis B is an infection that can cause serious liver damage. Hepatitis B symptoms can be mild or may impact the affected individual for the rest of their lives.
Learn more about Hepatitis B symptoms and how it can be treated.
What is Hepatitis B?
Hepatitis B is an infection caused by the hepatitis B virus (HBV). The word “hepatitis” means an inflammation of the liver, with viruses A, B, and C being separate viruses that have similar effects.
While hepatitis A usually goes away on its own without treatment, hepatitis C and hepatitis B symptoms can be more serious. Hepatitis B can be either acute or chronic, affecting the liver in ways that range anywhere from mild to serious. While hepatitis B symptoms are often short-lived and rarely result in death, HBV can lead to life-threatening complications such as cirrhosis or cancer of the liver.
How is Hepatitis B Prevented?
One of the best ways of preventing hepatitis B is to get yourself vaccinated. Many people are vaccinated at birth or during the course of their childhood, which should offer protection for an entire lifetime. If you feel that you have not been vaccinated, talk to your doctor about whether the vaccine is right for you.
Hepatitis B can be transmitted in a variety of ways, as HBV is highly contagious. The Centers for Disease Control reports that hepatitis B is 50 to 100 times more infectious than HIV. It is contracted through bodily fluids such as blood, semen, vaginal fluids, and even urine.
If you are sexually active, be careful: Hepatitis B can be transmitted through vaginal, oral, or anal sex. Use safe sex practices, such as condoms and dental dams to reduce your chances of exposure to HBV.
If you believe you have been exposed to HBV or are developing hepatitis B symptoms, get yourself tested. Through regular testing, you and your sexual partner can prevent transmission of any STDs, such as Hepatitis B, to one another.
Do not share needles, razors, or toothbrushes. If any of these household items are exposed to infected blood (through pokes, nicks, or bleeding gums), sharing them could be cause for contracting hepatitis B.
Hepatitis B is not contracted through hugging, kissing, holding hands, sharing food, coughing, sneezing, or breastfeeding.
What Do Hepatitis B Symptoms Look Like?
One of the most common hepatitis B symptoms is no symptoms at all. In fact, as many as half of those infected with HBV are asymptomatic. When signs and symptoms of HBV are present, they can be mild or resemble symptoms that are common with colds and the flu. Often times hepatitis B symptoms come and go with the person never realizing that they had hepatitis.
Some of the most common Hepatitis B symptoms are listed below.
- Abdominal pain
- Loss of appetite
- Nausea and vomiting
- Joint pain
- Dark-colored urine
- Pale, clay-colored bowel movements
- Jaundice (yellowing eyes and skin)
For many, hepatitis B will go away on its own over a period of days or weeks as their body’s immune system fights off the infection. This is known as an acute infection. For others, their body will never eliminate the virus, developing what is known as chronic hepatitis B.
Chronic hepatitis B symptoms are the same as those who have an acute HBV infection, with the vast majority having no symptoms at all. Many are not even aware that they have Hepatitis.
You may be asking yourself, “If the hepatitis B virus goes away or may be invisible altogether, then why bother getting tested?” It’s a fair question and the answer is that, while you may be asymptomatic, having chronic hepatitis B can lead to very serious complications. These complications can include cirrhosis and cancer of the liver. By getting tested for hepatitis B, you can work with your doctor to follow the infection’s progress and take any steps necessary for protecting your health.
What Can I Expect When I Get Tested?
If you’ve been experiencing hepatitis B symptoms, or think you may have been infected with HBV, getting tested is important to your health. This is especially true if you are pregnant or believe you may soon become pregnant. Hepatitis B can easily be passed to your baby, due to the virus being extremely contagious.
While you may get regular physicals or gynecological exams, Hepatitis B testing is not a part of the usual routine for either exam. You will need to request HBV and other STD testing specifically. All that is required is usually a quick and easy blood test. Even if you currently have hepatitis B symptoms, and have HBV in your system, your test may come back as a false negative if you have been infected in less than two months. This is because it takes two months after infection to develop the HBV antibodies the test is trying to detect. If you believe a false negative may be possible, you may want to consider returning for a second test.
What Can I Expect from Hepatitis B Treatment?
While HBV has no cure, hepatitis B symptoms typically go away on their own after four to eight weeks. More than 90% of all adults who contract HBV fully recover. If your hepatitis B symptoms go away on their own, you may not even need further treatment. Your doctor may simply tell you to get plenty of rest, to eat healthy foods, and to drink plenty of water.
For those who experience chronic hepatitis B symptoms, there are various steps that can help you live a healthy life. The first will be medication, which your doctor can prescribe to help ease the hepatitis B symptoms you are experiencing. Be careful before taking any medication – including those over-the-counter – as these may harm your liver.
As someone living with chronic hepatitis B, you will also want to avoid anything else that could cause damage to your liver. This could include vitamins, nutritional supplements, and especially alcohol. Talk to your nurse or doctor before continue to consume any drugs, supplements, or alcohol.
If you have chronic HBV, remember that you are a carrier for the virus. Even if you are taking medication and are showing no hepatitis B symptoms, you will likely be contagious for the rest of your life. Be sure to stay aware of this and use safe sex practices.
Because there can be complications to living with hepatitis B symptoms, you may also wish to seek a hepatitis B support group. It can be emotionally challenging to live with a chronic illness, with many finding it helpful to talk to others who can relate.
How Will Hepatitis B Affect My Pregnancy?
Due to the contagiousness of HBV, it is possible to transmit the virus to your baby during birth. If you are pregnant, it is important to get tested and be aware of your hepatitis B status. While many babies can recover from the virus with immediate treatment, a lack of treatment can lead to your child developing chronic hepatitis B symptoms, with all of the complications that it entails.