Hepatitis B is a treatable disease that affects the liver and can cause cirrhosis (liver scarring), liver failure and even liver cancer. Individuals infected with hepatitis B may not develop symptoms for many years and can unknowingly spread it to others. Many people are able to clear hepatitis B from their bodies within six months after they are infected.
Causes of Hepatitis B
The hepatitis B virus (HBV) is transmitted through exposure to blood, semen or other bodily fluids of someone who is infected. It spreads through:
- Unprotected sex
- Using dirty needles for drug use, tattoos or piercings
- Sharing razors, toothbrushes or nail clippers
- Medical treatment with instruments that aren’t sterile
- Being bitten by someone who is infected
- Transmission from mother to child during birth
Symptoms of Hepatitis B
Some of those infected with HBV never develop noticeable symptoms, while others may experience:
- Achy muscles or joints
- Stomach pain
- Loss of appetite
- Mild fever
- Loss of energy
- Jaundice (yellowing of the skin or eyes)
Acute hepatitis B lasts less than six months and is often cleared by the body’s immune system. Chronic hepatitis B can last a lifetime and can lead to serious illness, including liver cancer or liver failure that requires a transplant. Other potential complications include kidney disease and inflammation of the blood vessels.
Diagnosing Hepatitis B
There are three methods used to diagnose hepatitis B:
- Blood tests to detect the virus and determine if it’s acute or chronic
- An abdominal ultrasound to examine the size and shape of the liver and the flow of blood through it
- A liver biopsy to check for signs of damage
Treatments for Hepatitis B
If you’ve been exposed to hepatitis B and you’re not sure if you’ve been vaccinated, an injection of immunoglobulin within 12 hours may protect you from contracting the virus. If you’ve been infected and your doctor determines that your hepatitis B infection is acute, he or she might recommend rest, hydration and a proper diet to help your body fight off the infection.
If you’re diagnosed with chronic hepatitis B, your treatment regimen will be designed to reduce the risk of liver disease and prevent you from infecting others. It may include:
- Antiviral medications to slow the progression of liver damage
- Interferon injections to fight the infection
- A liver transplant, if your liver has been severely damaged
Tampa General Hospital’s liver disease and hepatology team provides world-class care and successful outcomes to many patients experiencing the debilitating effects of liver disease, including hepatitis B. In fact, our extensive experience treating highly complex cases has helped us achieve some of the best outcomes in the nation.