Skip to Main Content

We have a new app!

Take the Access library with you wherever you go—easy access to books, videos, images, podcasts, personalized features, and more.

Download the Access App here: iOS and Android



  • Defined by chronic infection (HBV, HCV, HDV) for longer than 3–6 months.

  • Diagnosis is usually made by antibody tests and viral nucleic acid in serum.

General Considerations

Chronic hepatitis is defined as chronic necroinflammation of the liver of more than 3–6 months’ duration, demonstrated by persistently elevated serum aminotransferase levels or characteristic histologic findings, often in the absence of symptoms. In many cases, the diagnosis of chronic hepatitis may be made on initial presentation. The causes of chronic hepatitis include HBV, HCV, and HDV as well as autoimmune hepatitis; alcohol-associated and nonalcoholic steatohepatitis; certain medications, such as isoniazid and nitrofurantoin; Wilson disease; alpha-1-antitrypsin (antiprotease) deficiency; and, rarely, celiac disease. Mortality from chronic HBV and HCV infection has been rising in the United States, and HCV has surpassed HIV as a cause of death. Chronic hepatitis is categorized based on etiology (eFigure 16–11) (eFigure 16–12); grade of portal, periportal, and lobular inflammation (minimal, mild, moderate, or severe); and stage of fibrosis (none, mild, moderate, severe, cirrhosis). In the absence of advanced cirrhosis, patients are often asymptomatic or have mild nonspecific symptoms. The World Health Organization has outlined a strategy for eliminating chronic viral hepatitis by 2030 (by vaccinating against hepatitis B, ensuring blood safety and injection safety, timely birth dosing of hepatitis B vaccine, harm reduction from injecting drug use, and testing and treating persons coinfected with hepatitis viruses and HIV).

eFigure 16–11.

Mild chronic hepatitis (low power and high power).

eFigure 16–12.

Moderately severe chronic hepatitis (low power and high power).

Thomas  DL. Global elimination of chronic hepatitis. N Engl J Med. 2019;380:2041.
[PubMed: 31116920]  


Clinical Findings & Diagnosis

Chronic hepatitis B afflicts 248 million people worldwide (2 billion overall have been infected; endemic areas include Asia and sub-Saharan Africa) and an estimated 2.4 million (predominantly males) in the United States. It may be noted as a continuum of acute hepatitis B or diagnosed because of repeated detection of HBsAg in serum, often with elevated aminotransferase levels.

Five phases of chronic HBV infection are recognized: immune tolerant phase, immune active (or immune clearance) phase, inactive HBsAg carrier state, reactivated chronic hepatitis B phase, and the HBsAg-negative phase. In the immune tolerant phase (HBeAg-positive chronic HBV infection), HBeAg and HBV DNA are present in serum and are indicative of active viral replication, and serum aminotransferase levels are normal, with little necroinflammation in the liver. This phase is common ...

Pop-up div Successfully Displayed

This div only appears when the trigger link is hovered over. Otherwise it is hidden from view.