What is hepatitis b?

There are three types of viral hepatitis, a contagious liver infection. These are hepatitis A, hepatitis B, and hepatitis C. Hepatitis B (sometimes referred to as HBV or hep B) is usually a short-term (acute) condition lasting less than six months, during which time you may not have any symptoms at all. In some people, however, hepatitis B becomes chronic (lasting more than six months) and may lead to other complications and conditions, such as liver failure, liver cancer, and cirrhosis.

Causes of hepatitis B

Unlike hepatitis A, which can be spread through contaminated food and water, hepatitis B infection is spread mostly by way of bodily fluids, such as blood and semen. In the United States, having unprotected sex with an infected person is the most common way the virus is spread. Other examples of ways you can get hepatitis B include:

  • Injecting drugs and sharing needles with an infected person
  • Getting a tattoo with an unsterilized needle
  • Making contact with an open wound of an infected person

Hepatitis B can also be spread in more subtle ways, such as through nail clippers, razors, toothbrushes and washcloths—or any item that can carry blood or body fluids. However, you cannot get the virus from food, water, utensils, or the coughs and sneezes of an infected person.

Symptoms of hepatitis B

While a person with hepatitis B may not have any symptoms, people who have chronic hep B are more likely to experience some of the following:

  • Dark yellow urine
  • Tiredness
  • Gray-colored stools (bowel movements)
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Jaundice (yellowing of eyes and skin)

Diagnosis and testing of hepatitis B

Hepatitis B can be diagnosed with a blood test. In people with a chronic condition, additional testing such as liver ultrasound and liver biopsy can help determine how much damage has been done to your liver. For some people antiviral medication may also be recommended to keep the virus from multiplying further.

The best prevention for hepatitis B is to avoid the types of risky behaviors previously mentioned and to get the hep B vaccination, which is commonly given to babies and is given again in the adolescent years. The vaccination lasts approximately 13 years. If you're an adult who may have been vaccinated a long time ago, be sure to ask your doctor to test whether you have hepatitis B antibodies (protecting you against the virus). If not, vaccination may be recommended.



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