Viral hepatitis may develop without clinical signs or symptoms, or symptoms that appear for a short time with or without jaundice. The incubation period for hepatitis B—from acute exposure to clinical symptoms—may range from 60 to 180 days. When symptoms do occur, they may vary from flulike symptoms to fatal liver failure.
Early in the disease process, 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 dark urine. 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 scratching associated with irritated skin may continue for some time.
In adults, hepatitis B usually resolves on its own in several weeks or months. However, if chronic infection develops, the illness can last for many years or a lifetime and result in significant medical problems.
Last reviewed on 7/23/09
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