Viral hepatitis may develop without clinical signs or symptoms. When symptoms do occur, they may vary with age and in severity, from flulike symptoms to jaundice and abdominal pain to, in very rare cases, liver failure. Jaundice, or a characteristic yellowing of the skin and eyes, is a result of the overtaxed liver's inability to do its usual job of clearing the body of bilirubin, a byproduct of old red blood cells. Some 70 percent of children infected with hepatitis A generally have no symptoms. Adults may suddenly become quite ill.
Early in the disease, some patients experience fever, joint pain, rash, and swelling. Before jaundice develops, some patients experience respiratory and gastrointestinal tract symptoms, which may include fatigue, muscle pain, nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite and weight loss, headache, inflammation of the mucus membranes in the nose, fever, or sore throat and cough. Many patients complain of pain in the upper abdomen or upper right side, and diarrhea. Also characteristic of the disease is the development of tea-colored urine and the lightening of stool color. This phase may last from two to three days to two to three weeks.
Once jaundice develops, general constitutional symptoms may subside over a period of weeks. However, nausea, loss of appetite, vomiting, and irritated skin lesions may last for some time. Generally, in four to eight weeks, the disease resolves completely and does not lead to chronic infection. Once an individual has had hepatitis A, he or she is immune to future infections by this virus.
Last reviewed on 7/28/09
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