How does hepatitis B progress to damage the liver?
Hepatitis B progresses very slowly and has four stages although only very few people will progress past the first stage listed below:
What do these stages mean?
When the virus first enters the body, you are referred to as having an 'Acute Hepatitis B infection'. If you are infected with hepatitis B as an adult there is a 90% chance your body will get rid of the virus by itself during this early stage of infection. You are much less likely to clear the virus naturally if infected during childhood or at birth.
However, if you still have Hepatitis B after 6 months, you have then progressed to a 'Chronic Hepatitis B infection' which will be long term, usually for life.
Most people who develop chronic hepatitis B infections will never experience symptoms or progress to liver damage. However, around 1 in 4 people who develop a chronic infection will eventually develop serious liver damage. Depending on the strain or genotype of Hepatitis B, you may be more or less likely to develop serious liver damage.
The virus attacks the liver cells causing swelling which can lead to the appearance of scar tissue that is called Fibrosis. Scar tissue gradually builds up, becoming permanent, and the liver becomes harder in texture. This hardening is referred to as Cirrhosis. There is an increased risk of liver cancer in those who have developed cirrhosis
Hardening of the liver affects its ability to function. The liver is an amazing organ, and can repair or compensate for a lot of damage. However, once it can no longer carry out its functions, the liver is said to be Decompensated.