Hepatitis B

Virginia Mason's Liver Center is dedicated to progressive and innovative management of liver disorders, including chronic hepatitis B and C. Patients also benefit from the Liver Center's participation in national clinical trials that use new medications for chronic hepatitis B and C through research protocols.

To schedule an appointment with Virginia Mason's Liver Center specialists, call (206) 223-2319.

Symptoms of Hepatitis B

Not all individuals with chronic hepatitis B will experience the same symptoms, however, when symptoms occur they may include:

  • Fatigue
  • Nausea
  • Skin rashes
  • Swelling of the ankles
  • Abdominal distention or swelling due to fluid build-up
  • Abdominal pain on the right side of the body where the liver is located
  • Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes)
  • Dark urine

Diagnosing Hepatitis B

Your liver specialist, or hepatologist, will first perform a medical history and a physical exam, and will listen to a description of your symptoms. He or she may suspect hepatitis B based on your signs and symptoms. You may have several tests and procedures to obtain a diagnosis and determine the extent of liver damage, including:

  • Blood Tests — Blood tests can confirm a diagnosis of hepatitis B as well as the type (genotype) of virus.
     
  • Liver Biopsy — A liver biopsy is performed by injecting a thin needle through your abdominal skin (percutaneously) and into the liver to remove a small sample of liver tissue. The area of the puncture is numbed first with a local anesthetic. A liver biopsy may be helpful in grading and staging the disease.

Treating Hepatitis B

Your hepatologist will discuss the best treatment options for you. The commonly recommended medication for chronic hepatitis B is antiviral drugs. These antiviral medicines are called interferons and may be given as a weekly shot, along with ribavirin, which is a pill. Your hepatologist will talk to you in more detail about use of these drugs and their side effects.

Liver Transplant

Patients with chronic hepatitis who have a severely compromised liver (from scarring associated with inflammation) or liver failure may be candidates for a liver transplant. Virginia Mason maintains a close working relationship with the University of Washington (UW) Medical Center for patients who may need a liver transplant.

Dietary and Lifestyle Changes

Your hepatologist will likely recommend lifestyle changes to help you avoid further damage to your liver and to protect others you come in contact with. These recommendations may include:

  • Avoiding alcoholic beverages — Alcohol is absorbed and metabolized by the liver and can make hepatitis worse.
     
  • Avoiding certain medications — Your hepatologist will talk with you about over the counter medications, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol), and prescription drugs that can damage the liver.
     
  • Preventing others from contracting hepatitis — Chronic viral hepatitis is an infectious (contagious) disease that is transmitted by blood and bodily fluids. You should take precautions not to infect another individual by practicing these preventive measures:
    • Cover any bleeding wounds with a bandage
    • Inform your dentist and any health-care workers that you have the virus
    • Don't donate blood
    • Don't share razors or toothbrushes
    • Don't have unprotected sex
    • Don't use dirty intravenous needles
       
  • Leading a healthy life — If you have hepatitis, you can live a longer, healthier life by bringing positive changes into your daily routine. These include getting enough exercise, eating the right foods and getting plenty of rest.