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First Symptoms of Hepatitis B in Women

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Hepatitis B is an infection that can lead to liver failure, liver cancer, and death. Unfortunately, approximately one third of women with hepatitis B will never display symptoms. In other women, it can take up to six months for symptoms to appear. Today, we’re explaining the first signs and symptoms of hepatitis B in women. If you notice any of these symptoms, and you believe you’ve recently been exposed to hepatitis B, then it’s important to get yourself checked as quickly as possible.

The First Signs and Symptoms of Hepatitis B in Women

Hepatitis B symptoms in women are similar to symptoms of hepatitis A. The most common early warning signs include:

  • Jaundice
  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • Belly pain
  • Loss of appetite
  • Brown or orange-colored urine
  • Light-colored feces

Jaundice is characterized by yellowed skin. You may also notice symptoms of jaundice in someone’s eyes – the whites of their eyes turn yellow. Jaundice is caused by abnormal levels of bilirubin in your liver. Typically, your liver filters bilirubin – a yellow-colored chemical – out of your body safely. When your liver is infected – say, with hepatitis A or hepatitis B – it struggles to filter bilirubin, which is where jaundice comes from.

Remember: approximately one third of women and men with hepatitis B will show no symptoms. It can take up to 1 to 6 months for symptoms to appear.

A doctor can confirm your hepatitis B diagnosis with a simple blood test.

How is Hepatitis B Transmitted?

Hepatitis B can be transmitted through unprotected sex. It can also be transmitted through any type of contact with an infected individual, including contact with blood or an open sore, sharing needles or syringes, or even sharing a razor.

Here are some of the most common ways in which women contract hepatitis B:

  • Unprotected vaginal, oral, or anal sex
  • Contact with blood or an open sore
  • Sharing needles, syringes, razors, or any other item that comes into contact with someone’s blood or bodily fluid
  • Vaginal childbirth, where an infected mother passes the disease onto her newborn child

Women who work in certain environments, or participate in certain activities, could be at a higher risk of hepatitis B. You may be at a higher risk of hepatitis B if you meet the following conditions:

  • Women who inject drugs or share needles
  • Women who have received organ transplants or blood transfusions (transfusion of infected blood is extremely rare, although it used to be more common before advanced screening methods were developed)
  • Women who undergo kidney dialysis
  • Women who work in health care facilities, where they may be at a higher risk of contacting a needle or other sharp instrument contaminated with infected blood
  • Women who travel or live in parts of the world where hepatitis B is more common, including parts of Southern and Eastern Europe, South America, Central America, Africa, Asia, and the Middle East

Despite what you read online, there are certain activities where you can’t get hepatitis B. You can’t get hepatitis B by having someone sneeze or cough on you, before example, or through non-sexual contact (by hugging someone or shaking their hand). Furthermore, women cannot pass the disease onto their child through breastfeeding.

General Symptoms of Hepatitis B in Women

Up above, we mentioned the most common early symptoms of hepatitis B in women. Symptoms like jaundice are common and easy to spot. Appetite loss, fatigue, fever, and other conditions are tougher to recognize – especially since those symptoms are linked to a number of other conditions.

With that in mind, here are some of the general symptoms of hepatitis B in women:

  • Loss of appetite
  • A feeling of fatigue that persists for days or weeks
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • An itching sensation all across your body
  • Pain in your liver area (on the right side of your body, just below your rib cage)
  • Dark urine
  • Pale-colored stools (with a gray or clay color)

If you fail to recognize the initial symptoms of hepatitis B, then the disease could progress, leading to more severe health problems. Some of the more severe symptoms of hepatitis B in women include all of the following:

  • Mental disturbances, including confusion, lethargy, hallucinations, and extreme sleepiness
  • Sudden collapse due to fatigue
  • More severe jaundice
  • Swelling of the abdomen

When left untreated over a long period of time, hepatitis B can lead to liver failure and other chronic liver problems. Symptoms of liver damage could include vomiting with blood in the vomit, bleeding from the nose, mouth, or rectum, blood in the stool, and fluid retention throughout the body.

What to Do If You Think You Have Hepatitis B

If you suspect you have hepatitis B, then you need to visit a doctor as soon as possible. A doctor will perform a complete physical. He or she may also check your liver. To confirm the presence of the hepatitis B virus, the doctor may also order a blood test. The blood test looks for antibodies, which are the compounds in your blood fighting back against the virus, to verify the presence of hepatitis B.

After a diagnosis is confirmed, doctors can administer a vaccine. They could also boost your immune system using a shot of hepatitis B immune globulin.

In more advanced cases – say, if the infection continues after six months – then doctors may prescribe medications like Interferon alfa or Lamivudine.

Frequently Asked Questions About Hepatitis B in Women

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Getting tested is not only quick and easy, it’s the only way to know for sure if you do or do not have an STD.

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Is hepatitis B common? Hepatitis B was once a very common infection. According to the CDC, hepatitis B rates peaked at around 200,000 cases in the 1980s, down to around 18,000 cases in 2012.

Are certain women more likely to contract hepatitis B? Women and men between ages 20 and 49 are more likely to contract hepatitis B. Women who work in healthcare, engage in risky activities, or travel to certain countries are also more likely to get infected.

Are all hepatitis B cases chronic? A hepatitis B infection is considered chronic if it lasts for over six months. Approximately 5 to 10% of hepatitis B cases in women and men become chronic, although the rate is much higher in children under the age of 5.

Can I spread the disease even if I don’t have symptoms? Women who have had a hepatitis B infection for more than 6 months become carriers, which means they can infect other people through contact with blood or fluids.


About Monica Silva

Monica Silva graduated from University of Michigan School of Public Health studying health behavior and health education. She is passionate about improving access to sexual and reproductive health care, and addressing gender-based violence. She was involved in reproductive health advocacy and the creation of Youth Friendly Pharmacies that provide a wide spectrum of sexual and reproductive health services.

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