Hepatitis B | Digestive Health | Loyola Medicine

Hepatitis B

Overview and Facts about Hepatitis B

Hepatitis B is a serious infection of the liver. Located in the upper-right abdomen, the liver functions to help your body process and store nutrients while filtering toxins from the blood. The hepatitis B virus causes severe inflammation, damaging the liver cells. If hepatitis B becomes chronic (lasting more than six months), damaged tissue may be replaced with scar tissue, a condition called cirrhosis.

One of several forms of hepatitis viruses, hepatitis B is highly contagious and is typically spread through body fluids (shared needles, sexual contact or contaminated blood). There is no cure for hepatitis B, although infected adults are typically able to recover their digestive health. However, the risk of developing cirrhosis, liver cancer or liver failure is increased if the condition becomes chronic.

Symptoms and Signs of Hepatitis B

Signs and symptoms of hepatitis B do not usually appear until one to four months after the virus is contracted, and can range from relatively mild to severe. Young children may not present any symptoms.

Signs and symptoms of hepatitis B include:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Dark-colored urine
  • Fatigue
  • Jaundice, or yellowing eyes or skin
  • Joint pain
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea or vomiting

Causes and Risk Factors of Hepatitis B

The hepatitis B virus is spread through body fluids like blood and semen, and causes inflammation of the liver. During the inflammation process, healthy cells are damaged, thereby reducing the liver’s ability to break down nutrients and remove toxins. In hepatitis B, a person’s digestive health may be only temporarily impaired; however, long-lasting inflammation can lead to serious complications such as cirrhosis, cancer or liver failure.

Risk factors for contracting hepatitis B include:

  • A job that exposes you to human blood or body fluids
  • Living with someone who has chronic hepatitis B
  • Travel to regions where hepatitis B infection is common
  • Unprotected sex with an infected partner
  • Using shared needles to inject drugs

Tests and Diagnosis of Hepatitis B

To diagnose hepatitis B, your doctor will first perform a physical examination, looking for signs of liver damage. A blood test will be used to confirm the presence of the hepatitis B virus in your blood. A biopsy, or small tissue sample, may be taken from your liver and imaging tests (ultrasound, MRI, and CT scans) may be used to determine the extent of liver damage as well.

Treatment and Care for Hepatitis B

The hepatitis B vaccine can protect people from becoming infected with the virus; exposure to the virus without a vaccine may require a special shot to prevent illness. Using protection when engaging in sex, avoiding illegal drug use and following safety precautions when traveling can also help prevent hepatitis B infection.

For short-lived hepatitis B infection, your doctor may recommend getting plenty of rest, managing your digestive health and avoiding alcohol use to help your body fight the virus on its own. Treating chronic hepatitis B infection includes the use of antiviral medications, interferon injections that stimulate the body to resist infection or liver transplant surgery in the case of liver failure.