The symptoms of hepatitis B can depend on whether a person has acute or chronic hepatitis B infection. In addition, about half of adults infected with hepatitis B and almost all children will not experience symptoms at all. If a person believes they may have been exposed to the virus, it is important to see a doctor for testing.

Acute hepatitis B infection in adults commonly results in jaundice (yellowish eyes and skin, dark urine and pale-coloured faeces) occurring approximately 12 weeks after initial infection. Other symptoms of acute hepatitis B infection include loss of appetite, nausea and vomiting, tiredness, abdominal pain, and muscle and joint pain.

Many people with acute hepatitis B have no symptoms and never realise they had the infection. A very small percentage of people with acute hepatitis B become very sick in a short period of time. This happens if there is massive damage to the liver and it stops working. This is called ‘fulminant hepatitis’.

Chronic hepatitis B infection often results in no symptoms of infection, meaning affected people can feel healthy and not be aware they are infected. However, other people may experience symptoms which are similar to those experienced with other forms of viral hepatitis. These can include tiredness, depression and irritability; pain in the liver (upper, right side of abdomen); nausea and vomiting; loss of appetite; joint aches and pains.

People with chronic hepatitis B have a significantly increased risk of developing liver cancer.

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