• Symptoms of hepatitis B are not always obvious
  • people often dismiss symptoms as other things or just as part of getting older
  • any ongoing symptoms should be checked by a medical practitioner

Acute and chronic symptoms of hepatitis B 

Some types of the hepatitis virus, but more specifically, hepatitis B and C, can be referred to as 'acute' or 'chronic'.

An acute illness lasts a short time. Although symptoms may initially be severe for some, most people recover from the illness within a few weeks with no lasting effects. Both hepatitis B and C have an initial acute phase, shortly after infection occurs and if the virus is not cleared naturally the person will then develop chronic hepatitis. 

A chronic illness can last a long time if not a lifetime. In the case of hepatitis, this is because the hepatitis virus reproduces in the liver, causing liver damage. As more liver cells are damaged and destroyed, scar tissue takes their place. This is known as fibrosis. Severe fibrosis can cause the liver to harden, preventing it from functioning as it should. This is called cirrhosis of the liver. In a small number of cases, serious damage to the liver can lead to liver failure and, ultimately, liver cancer.

Symptoms of acute hepatitis B

Among adults, the symptoms can include:

  • loss of appetite
  • nausea and vomiting
  • tiredness
  • abdominal pain
  • muscle and joint pain
  • jaundice (yellowish eyes and skin, dark urine and pale-coloured poo)

Jaundice can occur about 12 weeks after the initial infection. 

If you have acute hepatitis B, chances are you won’t realise you were infected, let alone connect any of the above symptoms to the virus. Only a small percentage of people with acute hepatitis B become sick enough in a short period of time to recognise the symptoms. This early onset of sickness is more likely when there’s a lot of existing damage to the liver. In this case, the presence of the virus prevents it working all together and you have what is called fulminant hepatitis.

Symptoms of chronic hepatitis B

Chronic hepatitis B symptoms are similar to other forms of viral hepatitis and include:

  • tiredness, depression and irritability
  • pain in the liver (upper, right side of abdomen)
  • nausea and vomiting
  • loss of appetite
  • joint aches and pains.

Even though you may have chronic hepatitis B, you may still feel healthy. So you may not be aware that you’re infected let alone connect the above symptoms to the infection.

How do you know you’re infected before any tests are done?

If you experience any combination of the symptoms listed above, that is the first warning sign to see your GP and have tests done.

While there is currently no cure for hepatitis B, getting treatment at the appropriate time will decrease and prevent the risk of developing serious liver disease and liver cancer.

Download this factsheet


More about hepatitis B

Use the following links to find out more about hepatitis B

About Hepatitis B

Testing for Hepatitis B

Hepatitis B Treatment

Hepatitis B Vaccination

 

References

Lin, K.W. & Kirchner, T.J. (2004). 'Hepatitis B'. American Family Physician. 69 (1), pp.75–82.

Page updated: 23 May 2019