People with hepatitis B can sometimes develop serious liver problems. These mostly affect people with an untreated long-term (chronic) infection.

Some of the main problems associated with hepatitis B are outlined below.

Cirrhosis

Scarring of the liver (cirrhosis) affects around one in five people with chronic hepatitis B, often many years after they first got the infection.

Cirrhosis doesn't usually cause any noticeable symptoms until extensive damage to the liver has occurred, when it can cause:

  • tiredness and weakness
  • loss of appetite
  • weight loss
  • feeling sick
  • very itchy skin
  • tenderness, pain, or swelling in the tummy
  • swelling of the ankles

There's currently no cure for cirrhosis, although it's possible to manage the symptoms and slow its progression. If the liver becomes severely damaged, a liver transplant may be needed.

Read more about the treatments for cirrhosis.

Liver cancer

People with cirrhosis caused by hepatitis B have around a 1 in 20 chance of developing liver cancer every year.

Symptoms of liver cancer include:

  • unexplained weight loss
  • loss of appetite
  • feeling very full after eating, even if the meal was small
  • feeling and being sick
  • yellow skin and eyes (jaundice)

Treatment for liver cancer may involve surgery to remove the affected section of liver, a procedure to destroy the cancerous cells, or a liver transplant.

Read more about the treatments for liver cancer.

Fulminant hepatitis B

In less than 1 in 100 cases, short-term (acute) hepatitis B can lead to a serious problem called fulminant hepatitis B.

This is where the immune system attacks the liver and causes extensive damage to it.

It can lead to symptoms such as:

  • confusion
  • collapsing
  • swelling of the tummy caused by a build-up of fluid
  • severe jaundice

Fulminant hepatitis B can cause the liver to stop working properly and is often fatal if not treated quickly.

Page last reviewed: 21/03/2016

Next review due: 21/03/2018