Hepatitis B flares in chronic hepatitis B: Pathogenesis, natural course, and management

Ming Ling Chang, Yun Fan Liaw*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

223 Scopus citations


Hepatitis B flare, defined as an event with abrupt rise of alanine aminotransferase (ALT) levels to >5 times the upper limit of normal during chronic hepatitis B virus (HBV) infection, is considered to be the result of a human leukocyte antigen-I restricted, cytotoxic T lymphocyte mediated immune response against HBV and its downstream mechanisms. It may occur spontaneously, during or after antiviral therapy and in the setting of immunosuppression and/or chemotherapy. The clinical spectrum of hepatitis B flares varies from asymptomatic to symptomatic and typical overt acute hepatitis, even with hepatic decompensation or failure. Flares may also occur in viraemic patients with cirrhosis with higher incidence of decompensation/mortality, hence requiring immediate antiviral therapy. An upsurge of serum HBV DNA and hepatitis B surface antigen levels usually precedes the abrupt rise of ALT levels. Rising or stable and high HBV DNA during flares represent ineffective immune clearance and further hepatocytolysis, even hepatic decompensation, may occur. Such patients require immediate antiviral therapy. In contrast, bridging hepatic necrosis and/or alpha-fetoprotein levels >100 ng/ml or decreasing HBV DNA during flares represent a more effective immune clearance and frequently leads to seroclearance of HBV DNA and/or hepatitis B e antigen with remission. If patients are non-cirrhotic and there is no concern of developing decompensation, patients may be observed for 3-6 months before deciding on the need of antiviral therapy. Severe and repeated flares are prone to develop into decompensation or lead to the development of cirrhosis, thus a timely treatment to prevent the hepatitis B flare is better than to cope with the flare. Screening, monitoring and prophylactic or pre-emptive antiviral therapy is mandatory for patients who are going to receive immunosuppressants or chemotherapy.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1407-1417
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Hepatology
Issue number6
StatePublished - 01 12 2014

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2014 European Association for the Study of the Liver. Published by Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.


  • Alpha-fetoprotein
  • Chemotherapy
  • Cirrhosis
  • Hepatitis B virus
  • Hepatocellular carcinoma
  • Immune clearance
  • Immune restoration
  • Interferona
  • Nucleos(t)ide analogue
  • Pregnancy


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