Signs and Symptoms of Hepatitis B: What To Watch Out For

    Signs and Symptoms of Hepatitis B: What To Watch Out For

    What is hepatitis B?

    Hepatitis B is a serious liver infection caused by the hepatitis B virus (HBV). Signs and symptoms of hepatitis B often do not appear immediately, which allows HBV to silently damage the liver.

    How common is hepatitis B?

    The number of hepatitis B cases is a huge public health concern. It is estimated that there are more than 250 million carriers of the Hepatitis virus in the world. Of these, 500,000 annually die from hepatitis B-related liver disease. In the Philippines, around 1 in 10 people contract the disease. In most cases, the condition is left untreated because of the lack of information about the signs and symptoms of hepatitis B.

    Hepatitis B infection can be prevented by getting vaccinated. Hepatitis B vaccines are safe and highly effective. They are routinely given to newborns, children and pregnant women in the Philippines.

    Hepatitis B infection can either be acute or chronic.

    Acute hepatitis B

    This type of infection may occur in less than six months from the time of exposure. Some may have no symptoms or have mild disease.

    Chronic hepatitis B

    The diagnosis may change to chronic hepatitis B infection if the virus is not successfully treated within six months. This means that HBV lingers in the blood and liver, but can be successfully managed. Chronic hepatitis B may last a lifetime and may lead to serious complications if left untreated.

    What are the signs and symptoms of hepatitis B?

    Signs and symptoms of hepatitis B take months to become apparent. They may appear 60-150 days after infection. But signs and symptoms of hepatitis B do not appear at all in most cases. When they do, it may be too late.

    People with HBV may pass the virus to others regardless of whether or not they show signs and symptoms of hepatitis B.

    Signs and symptoms of hepatitis B range from mild to severe. They include:

    • Loss of appetite
    • Aching of joints and muscles
    • Weakness
    • Low-grade fever
    • Stomach pain
    • Dark urine
    • Nausea
    • Vomiting
    • Yellowing of the eyes (sclera) and skin (jaundice)

    Consult your doctor if you have signs and symptoms of hepatitis B.

    Complications of hepatitis B

    Chronic hepatitis B infection may lead to complications such as:

    Hepatitis D infection

    This can only occur in people with hepatitis B. Hepatitis B causes the liver to swell, and hinders it from functioning well.

    Liver scarring (cirrhosis)

    The inflammation caused by HBV can affect the liver’s ability to function.

    Liver failure

    This is a condition wherein the liver’s vital functions shut down. A liver transplant is necessary at this point to sustain life.

    Liver cancer

    Having chronic hepatitis B infection increases the risk for liver cancer.

    Other conditions

    Chronic hepatitis B infection may also lead to kidney disease or inflammation of blood vessels.

    Being diagnosed with chronic hepatitis B can be upsetting, especially as signs and symptoms of hepatitis B often appear in the later stages. However, most people with chronic hepatitis B go on to live long and healthy lives. The key is early detection and treatment.

    When should I see my doctor?

    Talk to your doctor about testing for hepatitis B if you experience any of the symptoms above or suspect that you may have contracted the disease from someone who has HBV.

    What causes hepatitis B?

    Hepatitis B is caused by the Hepatitis B virus (HBV), which comes from the hepadnaviridae group. There are several types of this virus and are endemic in the human population.

    Risk factors

    What increases my risk for hepatitis B?

    The younger you are when you are exposed to hepatitis B, the higher the chances of the infection becoming chronic.

    • 90% of newborns and babies (below age 5) may develop chronic hepatitis B infection
    • Around 50% of infected children, ages 1-5, may develop chronic hepatitis B infection
    • 5-10% of infected adults may develop chronic hepatitis B infection

    90% of adults infected with hepatitis B completely recover from the disease.

    Hepatitis B transmission

    Hepatitis B is highly contagious. Although some traces of hepatitis B can be present in saliva, it does not spread through coughing, sneezing, kissing, or sharing of utensils.

    HBV can be transmitted to another person through blood, semen, vaginal secretions, and other bodily fluids.

    The common ways HBV spreads are through:

    Sexual contact

    The chances of getting hepatitis B through sex is high. HBV can spread to a person if they have unprotected sex with someone who is infected.

    Sharing of needles

    HBV can easily spread through shared needles and syringes that are contaminated with the blood of someone who has HBV.

    Accidental needle sticks

    Healthcare workers may get HBV if contaminated needles accidentally prick them.

    Mother to child

    A pregnant woman with HBV can pass the virus on to her baby during childbirth, or shortly after delivery. Breastfeeding is safe for mothers with hepatitis B. Ask your doctor about getting tested for hepatitis B if you are pregnant or are planning to conceive.

    High risk groups

    Remember, signs and symptoms of hepatitis B do not always appear. You may not know who is and is not infected with HBV.

    The risk for hepatitis B is higher for certain groups. They are:

    • People who have unprotected sex with multiple partners or with someone with HBV
    • Men who have sex with other men
    • People who use IV drugs
    • Those who live with someone who has chronic HBV
    • People with chronic liver disease
    • Those with kidney disease
    • Healthcare workers or people who are exposed to human blood because of their job
    • Infants of mothers with HBV
    • People who travel to countries where rates of HBV infection are high

    Diagnosis & treatment

    The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.

    How is hepatitis B diagnosed?

    If you have come in contact with a person with hepatitis B, or traveled from a place where the disease is common, it is a good idea to contact your doctor and have yourself tested. Doctors will ask the patient to undergo a series of blood tests to diagnose hepatitis B.

    How is hepatitis B treated?

    Treatment is not usually required for acute hepatitis B. In most cases, people are able to fight off the virus on their own. However, getting enough rest and staying well-hydrated is important for all stages of recovery.

    Antiviral medications are given to those diagnosed with chronic hepatitis B infection. These medications will help the body fight the virus. They also help prevent further damage and complications in the liver.

    Doctors may recommend a liver transplant if the damage done to the liver is too severe. The procedure will involve removing the patient’s liver, and replacing it with a donor’s liver. Most livers used for transplants are from deceased donors.

    Lifestyle changes & home remedies

    What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage hepatitis B?

    If you have any questions, consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.

    Prevention is always better than seeking treatment. The best prevention for hepatitis B is by getting vaccinated. The vaccine is completely safe, and relatively affordable.

    The hepatitis B vaccine consists of three to four shots given over six months. The vaccine is recommended for:

    • Newborns
    • Children and adults who were not vaccinated at birth
    • Pregnant women
    • Adults receiving treatment for a sexually transmitted infections
    • Healthcare workers
    • People living with someone who has hepatitis B
    • People living with HIV
    • Men who have sex with men
    • People with multiple sexual partners
    • People who travel to places with high cases of hepatitis B

    It is encouraged that you get vaccinated for hepatitis B.

    There are other precautionary measures that you can do to avoid HBV. These include:

    Knowing your sexual partner’s HBV status

    Do not engage in unprotected sex unless you are absolutely sure that they do not have HBV or any other sexually transmitted infection. When in doubt, use barrier protection such as a condom.

    Use only one condom for every round

    The proper use of condoms requires you to use a new one after every round of sex. Remember that condoms only reduce your risk of acquiring HBV. They do not completely eliminate the risk.

    Stop using illicit drugs

    Seek professional help if you are struggling to quit drugs. If you are unable to, make sure your needles are sterile each time you use them. Never share needles.

    Be cautious when choosing body piercing and tattoo shops

    Look for reputable shops if you are planning to get a body piercing or tattoo. Ask about their cleaning process, and make sure their needles and equipment are sterile.

    Get vaccinated before traveling

    Ask your doctor about the hepatitis B vaccine if you plan to travel to countries where cases HBV cases are high. You will need at least six months to complete the series of shots. Make sure you are completely vaccinated before traveling.

    Key takeaway

    Hepatitis B infection is a serious and preventable disease. Knowing the signs and symptoms of hepatitis B and having access to proper health services can ensure your recovery.

    This infection attacks one of the body’s most vital organs, the liver. It can be life-threatening when untreated. Early detection and treatment is the best way to prevent the infection from progressing. This is why it is important to know the signs and symptoms of hepatitis B.

    Learn more about HPV here.

    Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

    Medically reviewed by

    Regina Victoria Boyles, MD


    Written by Fleur Angeline Quesada · Updated Dec 18, 2022