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Massachusetts General Hospital Liver Center specialists are authorities in the diagnosis and management of all forms of acute and chronic liver disease.
The Liver and Hepatitis Program at Massachusetts General Hospital provides expert consultation and state-of-the-art care for patients with acute and chronic liver conditions, including curative therapies for hepatitis C virus (HCV)Request an appointment
For more information or to make an appointment: 617-724-6006
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The Massachusetts General Hospital Center for Viral Hepatitis provides care to patients living with chronic viral hepatitis, including hepatitis B virus (HBV) and hepatitis C virus (HCV).
Call to schedule an appointment: 617-726-7495
The Pediatric Transplant Program at MassGeneral Hospital for Children is a major referral center for organ transplants for children.
Contact the Pediatric Transplant Program at: 617-724-1218Visit the Pediatric Surgery website
The pediatric neuropsychology specialists at Massachusetts General Hospital’s Psychology Assessment Center provide neuropsychological assessments to aid in the diagnosis and treatment of neurological, medical, genetic and developmental disorders.
For more information, please call: 617-643-3997
The Pediatric Hepatobiliary and Pancreatic Program at MassGeneral Hospital for Children diagnoses and treats infants, children and adolescents with diverse hepatic, biliary and pancreatic disorders.
Contact the Hepatobiliary & Pancreatic Program: 888-644-3211
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The Massachusetts General Hospital Transplant Center has performed more adult and pediatric liver transplants than any other center in New England, and has maintained some of the best graft and patient survivals in the country.
The Transplant Psychiatry Program in the Massachusetts General Hospital Transplant Center is an important part of the comprehensive and life-long care provided to transplant patients and donors.Download our patient guide to transplantation (PDF) Ver información e indicaciones para el paciente en español (PDF)
Call to request an appointment or referral: 617-726-2984
The Transplant Infectious Disease Program, part of the Massachusetts General Hospital Transplant Center, is a part of the life-long care provided to organ, bone marrow and stem cell transplant recipients and others with increased risk for infections.Download our patient guide to transplantation (PDF) Ver información e indicaciones para el paciente en español (PDF)
Call to request an appointment or referral: 617-726-3812
What is hepatitis B?
Hepatitis is a redness and swelling (inflammation) of the liver. It sometimes causes permanent liver damage.
There are several types of hepatitis. In hepatitis B, the liver is infected with the hepatitis B virus. This causes inflammation. The liver isn’t able to work the way it should.
The liver is a large organ that lies up under the ribs on the right side of your belly (abdomen). It helps filter waste from your body, makes a fluid called bile to help digest food, and stores sugar that your body uses for energy.
In the U.S., hepatitis B is one of the most common diseases that can be prevented with a vaccine.
Hepatitis B can be short-term (acute) or long-term (chronic).
- Acute hepatitis B. This is a brief infection (6 months or less) that goes away because the body gets rid of the virus.
- Chronic hepatitis B. This is a long-lasting infection that happens when your body can’t get rid of the virus. It causes long-term liver damage.
What causes hepatitis B?
Hepatitis B is caused by infection with the hepatitis B virus. People pass the hepatitis B virus to each other. This happens when you come into contact with another person’s infected:
- Vaginal secretions
Common ways this virus is spread are through:
- Needle sticks
- Sharp instruments
- Shared razors and toothbrushes
- Unprotected sex with an infected person
Babies may also get the disease if their mother has the virus. Infected children can spread the virus to other children if they play together often or if a child has many scrapes or cuts.
Who is at risk for hepatitis B?
Anyone can get hepatitis B by coming into contact with the blood or body fluids of someone who is infected with hepatitis B.
Some people are at higher risk for getting hepatitis B. They include:
- Children born to mothers who have hepatitis B
- People from Asian and Pacific Island nations
- People living in long-term care facilities or who are disabled
- People living in households where someone is infected with the virus
- People who have a blood-clotting disorder, such as hemophilia
- People who need dialysis for kidney failure
- People who use IV (intravenous) drugs
- People who have unprotected heterosexual or homosexual sex, especially if they have many sex partners
- People who have a job where they are in contact with human blood, body fluids, or needles
- People who work or live in a prison
- People who had blood transfusions, blood products, or organ transplants before the early 1990s
- People taking medicines that weaken (suppress) the body’s infection-fighting system (immune system)
- People with HIV or hepatitis C infections
What are the symptoms of hepatitis B?
Hepatitis B has a wide range of symptoms. It may be mild, without symptoms, or it may cause chronic hepatitis. In some cases, hepatitis B can lead to full-blown liver failure and death.
Each person’s symptoms may vary. The most common symptoms of hepatitis B include:
- Loss of appetite
- Extreme tiredness (fatigue)
- Muscle soreness
- Yellowing of the skin and eyes (jaundice)
- Dark urine
- Clay colored or light colored stools
- Belly or abdominal pain
- Easy bleeding and bruising
The symptoms of hepatitis B may look like other health problems. Always see your health care provider to be sure.
How is hepatitis B diagnosed?
To see if you have hepatitis B, your health care provider will give you a physical exam and do a blood test.
If chronic hepatitis B is suspected, a small tissue sample (biopsy) may be taken from your liver with a needle. These samples are checked under a microscope to find out the type of liver disease and how severe it is.
How is hepatitis B treated?
Hepatitis B is not treated unless it becomes a long-term (chronic) infection. Then medicines are used to try to slow down or stop the virus from damaging the liver.
Your symptoms will be closely watched and managed as needed. If severe liver damage takes place, a liver transplant may be needed.
There is no cure for hepatitis B.
What are the complications of hepatitis B?
Long-term or chronic hepatitis B can cause severe liver damage. This could lead to the need for a liver transplant.
Liver failure can lead to death.
The risk of liver cancer is higher in people with hepatitis B.
What can I do to prevent hepatitis B?
A vaccine is available to prevent hepatitis B. It is given in 3 shots (injections) over 6 months. The vaccine is suggested for everyone age 18 years and younger, as well as for adults over age 18 who are at risk for the infection.
You can protect yourself and others from hepatitis B by:
- Using condoms during sex
- Making sure any tattoos or body piercings are done with tools that have been cleaned properly and do not have any germs (sterile)
- Not sharing needles and other drug materials
- Not sharing toothbrushes or razors
- Not touching another person’s blood or body fluids unless you wear gloves
Key points about hepatitis B
- Hepatitis B is a redness and swelling (inflammation) of the liver. It sometimes causes permanent liver damage.
- Hepatitis B is caused by infection with the hepatitis B virus.
- People pass the hepatitis B virus to each other through infected blood and body fluids such as semen, vaginal secretions, and saliva.
- Anyone can get hepatitis B, but some people are at higher risk.
- You can protect yourself by using condoms during sex, not sharing needles, and not sharing toothbrushes or razors.
- Hepatitis B can be short-term (acute) or long-term (chronic).
- Chronic hepatitis B can lead to severe liver damage and the need for a liver transplant.
- The risk of liver cancer is higher in people with hepatitis B.
- A vaccine is available to prevent hepatitis B.
Next stepsTips to help you get the most from a visit to your health care provider:
- Before your visit, write down questions you want answered.
- Bring someone with you to help you ask questions and remember what your provider tells you.
- At the visit, write down the names of new medicines, treatments, or tests, and any new instructions your provider gives you.
- If you have a follow-up appointment, write down the date, time, and purpose for that visit.
- Know how you can contact your provider if you have questions.