Hepatitis B Causes & Symptoms + 6 Natural Treatments
It is estimated that over 300 million people are living with hepatitis B. In 2015, it resulted in 887,000 deaths worldwide. Although many people with hepatitis B don’t experience any symptoms, it’s a chronic infection that can lead to severe liver conditions like cirrhosis and liver cancer. The scary part is that it is 50–100 times more infectious than HIV. It’s also more infectious than hepatitis C. Both hepatitis B and C are transmitted through infected blood, but hepatitis A is transmitted through infected fecal matter. The virus can live outside of the body for many days and infect you unknowingly. That’s why people at risk of acquiring hepatitis B should be screened. That way those infected can limit the spread of the virus. (1, 2)
There is no cure for hepatitis B. But there are natural ways to support your immune system and reduce your risk of developing a chronic infection. There are also remedies for relieving the symptoms of acute hepatitis B, which for some people can last for months.
What Is Hepatitis B?
Hepatitis B is a potentially life-threatening viral infection that affects the liver. The infection can lead to acute or chronic liver disease, or even death. Approximately 1,800 people die every year from hepatitis B-related liver disease. The hepatitis B virus is a member of the Hepadnaviridae family. It’s a small DNA virus that has unusual features, similar to retroviruses like HIV. The virus is able to persist in infected cells, allowing it to replicate and cause a chronic condition.
The danger of hepatitis B is that an acute infection can become chronic and lead to a wide spectrum of liver disease, including cirrhosis and liver cancer (hepatocellular carcinoma).
Hepatitis B Signs & Symptoms
Most people (about two-thirds) with acute hepatitis B experience no symptoms. But some, especially adults and children over the age of 5, develop symptoms that can last for several weeks. Approximately one-third of adults with acute hepatitis B will experience symptoms. They usually develop two to five months after exposure to the virus. The most common symptoms of acute hepatitis B include: (3, 4)
- extreme fatigue
- stomach pain (especially the upper right quadrant)
- loss of appetite
- joint pain
- muscle soreness
- dark urine
- light-colored stools
- jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes)
Symptoms of hepatitis B usually last a few weeks. But people can experience symptoms for as long as six months. People with chronic hepatitis B are unable to clear the virus. They may experience ongoing symptoms or live symptom-free for many years. The likelihood of the infection becoming a chronic condition depends on the age at which a person is infected. Children infected with the virus before the age of six are more likely to develop chronic hepatitis B. Research shows that 80 percent to 90 percent of infants infected with hepatitis B during their first year of life will go on to develop chronic infections. And 30 percent to 50 percent of children infected before the age of 6 will develop chronic hepatitis B. This is compared to less than 5 percent of otherwise healthy adults who develop a chronic infection. (5, 6)
Among those who do have chronic hepatitis B, 15 percent to 30 percent develop serious liver conditions, like liver cancer or cirrhosis. The type of liver cancer hepatitis B causes is hepatocellular carcinoma. Unlike other types of liver cancers that start in another organ of the body and spread to the liver, this type of cancer starts in the liver. It’s usually caused by long-term liver damage.
Cirrhosis is a serious disease that occurs when scar tissue develops in the liver. This scarring becomes so severe that the liver no longer functions properly. This impacts some of the body’s most essential processes, like blood flow, the elimination of toxins and waste, and the digestion of essential nutrients. According to research conducted at the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, for those with severe chronic hepatitis and cirrhosis, the five year survival rate is about 50 percent. (7)