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What to Know About Hepatitis B and Treatment  

What to Know About Hepatitis B and Treatment  

This article is for people who are living with hepatitis B and their care partners, or anyone who wants to learn more about hepatitis B. The goal of this activity is to help people talk to and work with their doctor about ways to help manage hepatitis B.

You will learn about:

  • Acute and chronic hepatitis B

  • How hepatitis B can spread

  • Complications (additional problems) of hepatitis B

  • Hepatitis B treatment

  • Questions to ask your doctor

Test Your Knowledge

What Is Hepatitis B?

Hepatitis B is a liver infection caused by the hepatitis B virus (HBV) that can be:

  • Acute, where you have an infection for a few months, then your body clears the virus on its own and you can't get hepatitis B again

  • Chronic, or long term, where your body doesn't clear the virus and infection lasts for 6 months or longer

Anyone at any age can get hepatitis B. Most adults will have an acute infection. But for some people, an acute infection can lead to chronic hepatitis B that can be lifelong.

How Hepatitis B Can Spread

Hepatitis B spreads when the body fluids of someone who has hepatitis B -- such as their blood, saliva, semen, or vaginal fluids -- enter your body.

This can happen by:

  • Direct physical contact, such as sexual activity, or contact with blood or wounds

  • Sharing personal items like toothbrushes, razors, glucose monitors, or needles

  • During birth when a pregnant woman passes it to her baby

Hepatitis B does not spread through casual contact, like hugging, or through sneezing, coughing, or breastfeeding. And while the virus can be found in saliva, it is not believed to be spread by kissing or sharing eating utensils.

Complications of Hepatitis B

With hepatitis B, you have inflammation (swelling) of your liver that can damage it and affect how well it works. As hepatitis B progresses, damage can get worse over time and can cause serious long-term complications, and even death, if not managed properly.

Complications of chronic hepatitis B can include:

  • Liver scarring (fibrosis) that can lead to severe scarring called cirrhosis

  • Liver cancer (carcinoma)

  • Liver failure where your liver stops working

  • Kidney disease and blood vessel problems

How to Know if You Have Hepatitis B

Many people don't know they have hepatitis B because they don't have any symptoms. But liver damage can still happen even if you feel okay, and you can still spread the virus to others.

The only way to know if you have hepatitis B for sure is with a blood test. Your doctor may recommend getting tested if you're at risk for getting hepatitis B or think you've been exposed to it. If you think you've been exposed, contact your doctor right away -- there may be treatment that can help lower your chances of infection.

Making a Plan With Your Doctor

Not everyone who has hepatitis B will need treatment. If you have an acute infection, your doctor may recommend getting rest and drinking plenty of fluids while your body works to clear the virus.

If you're living with chronic hepatitis B, your doctor will check you regularly for liver damage and to see how your condition is progressing and your overall health. While there's no cure for hepatitis B, there are ways to help manage it. You and your doctor will make a treatment plan together that best fits your individual needs and may include lifestyle changes and medicine.

Dr Norah Terrault talks about making a plan with your doctor to help manage hepatitis B.

Chronic Hepatitis B Treatment 

Sticking to your treatment plan is key to helping lower your chances of liver damage. And while not everyone who has chronic hepatitis B will need medicine, it's still important to keep seeing your doctor as scheduled.

If your doctor does recommend medicine, it may include:

  • Antivirals taken by mouth to help your body fight the virus and lower your chances of liver damage

  • Interferons given by injection to help fight infection

If chronic hepatitis B leads to liver failure or liver cancer, your doctor may recommend a liver transplant, a procedure where your liver is surgically removed and replaced with a healthy one from a donor.

Keeping a Healthy Lifestyle Can Help

Ways you can help manage hepatitis B and lower your chances of liver damage by keeping a healthy lifestyle include:

  • Avoid alcohol

  • Quit smoking

  • Eat a well-balanced diet with fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein

  • Stay physically active and maintain a healthy weight

  • Find ways to help cope with stress

  • Keep all medical appointments and stick to your treatment plan

  • Tell your doctor about all medicines you take -- including those you can get without a prescription -- and herbals and supplements

Questions to Ask Your Doctor

Questions you can ask your doctor about hepatitis B can include:

  • Do I need treatment for hepatitis B? Why or why not?

  • What medicines are available, and what are their side effects?

  • Has hepatitis B damaged my liver or caused other problems?

  • Should my partner and family be tested?

  • How can I protect those around me from getting hepatitis B?

  • Are there any lifestyle changes I should make?

  • What should I do if I start to feel stressed or depressed?

  • Are there any support groups I can join?

  • Where can I find more information and resources?

Test Your Knowledge

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You have successfully completed the program What to Know About Hepatitis B and Treatment.

View Additional Materials on this topic that you may find useful:

Hepatitis B

Hepatitis B FAQs

What Is Hepatitis B?

Hepatitis B Fact Sheet

Know Your Status and Treat Hepatitis B

Authors and Disclosures


Norah Terrault, MD, MPH, FAASLD

Professor of Medicine
Division Chief of Gastroenterology and Liver Diseases
Keck School of Medicine of USC
Los Angeles, California

Disclosure: Norah Terrault, MD, MPH, FAASLD, has the following relevant financial relationships: Served as an advisor or consultant for: Dova Pharmaceuticals; Entourage Pharma; ENYO; EXIGO Management Consultants LLC; Moderna. Received grants for clinical research from: Genentech; Gilead; GlaxoSmithKline; Roche.

Clinician Reviewer

Karen Badal, MD, MPH

Senior Medical Education Director, Medscape, LLC.

Disclosure: Karen Badal, MD, MPH, has disclosed no relevant financial relationships.


Anita A. Galdieri, PharmD, RPh

Associate Director, Content Development, Medscape, LLC.

Disclosure: Anita A. Galdieri, PharmD, RPh, has disclosed no relevant financial relationships.


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