Symptoms of Hepatitis B: 6 Things to Know
Hepatitis B is a type of viral infection of the liver. It begins as a short-term infection, but can progress to a chronic, lifelong infection. The likelihood of developing chronic hepatitis decreases with age. Almost all babies who contract the virus during birth will go on to develop chronic hepatitis. However, nearly all adults—95%—who become infected will completely recover from the acute infection. Here is what you need to know about hepatitis B symptoms and signs.
Symptoms of hepatitis B right after infection can be severe, but most adults do not experience any symptoms of acute hepatitis B. It is often known as a silent infection because of this. Young children and people with immunosuppression usually do not have symptoms either. Hepatitis B symptoms in men and women are the same. Even though it’s a sexually transmitted disease, the virus attacks the liver and affects the digestive system, not the reproductive organs.
When symptoms occur, they can include:
Dark urine and clay-colored stools
Jaundice, which is yellowing of the skin and eyes
Unlike a cold or flu virus, hepatitis B can take months to cause symptoms. Symptoms can appear as soon as two weeks after infection. However, it can take up to five months for symptoms to develop. It is possible to pass the infection to others even when symptoms are not present. This is why preventive measures, including practicing safe sex, not sharing needles, and protecting against blood exposure, are so important.
If symptoms of hepatitis B develop, they usually last a few weeks. Then, most people recover. This leads many people to assume they had a bad flu. However, sometimes acute hepatitis B symptoms can last up to six months. Anytime unusual symptoms last for more than a couple of weeks, it should be a cue to see your doctor. A blood test is the only way to know for sure if you have hepatitis B.
Like acute hepatitis B, chronic infection usually causes no symptoms in most adults. In fact, people can live for decades with chronic hepatitis B and not know it. If symptoms do develop, they are very similar to the symptoms of acute hepatitis B. Symptoms with chronic infection is often a sign of serious liver disease, such as cirrhosis, liver failure, and liver cancer. Chronic hepatitis B will eventually become fatal in about 15% of adults who develop it.
In rare cases, hepatitis B can cause fulminant hepatitis—a type of acute liver failure. Symptoms are similar to acute hepatitis B infection, but they occur very suddenly and are severe. Liver failure causes toxins to build up in the bloodstream, which affects how your brain functions. Symptoms can include behavioral changes, such as confusion and disorientation, in addition to acute hepatitis B symptoms like jaundice. Fulminant hepatitis is a medical emergency, as it can cause serious bleeding and increased pressure in the brain. Left untreated, it can be fatal.
You should see a doctor anytime you have symptoms of hepatitis B. Since many people do not experience or notice symptoms, you should also see a doctor anytime you think you might have had exposure to hepatitis B. This includes having unprotected sex or coming in contact with an infected person’s blood or other bodily fluids. You can also get hepatitis B from sharing needles or from an accidental needlestick. You can’t get hepatitis B from casual contact, such as hugging, or through food or water.