Hepatitis A has four stages. Not all patients experience all of the stages but being aware of them will help you to recognise them if they occur.
It takes between two and six weeks after you have been infected with hepatitis A for symptoms to appear, this is known as the incubation period and is the first stage. Although you may not have any symptoms at this stage you may be infectious (able to pass on the virus).
Stage two lasts around ten days. Symptoms in this stage can be similar to flu and can include:
- a mild temperature (fever), usually no more than 39.5oC/ 103.1oF
- feeling sick or being sick
- sore throat
- loss of appetite
- weight loss
- feeling tired all the time (fatigue)
- joint and muscle pain
- abdominal (stomach) pain.
Other symptoms at this stage can include a cough, headache, being itchy or having urticaria (hives) and a change in bowel movements (colour, shape, smell, consistency and how often you go to the toilet)
During stage three you may have the following symptoms – these symptoms usually last for one to three weeks but can last up to 12 weeks:
- jaundice – yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes
- dark urine (pee) and pale stools (poo)
- itchy skin
- your liver, spleen and lymph nodes may feel swollen and sore.
You may find some of the flu-like symptoms you were feeling during stage two get better.
Stage four is the final stage and most people fully recover from hepatitis A within a couple of months, however it can take up to six months for all of the symptoms to get better. A small number of people relapse (their symptoms return) or develop serious complications.
Once you have fully recovered from hepatitis A you are usually immune (protected lifelong) and should not get the virus again.
If you have recently been in contact with someone who has hepatitis A, feel you may be at risk of getting the virus or you start to have symptoms that may be caused by having hepatitis A, it is important that you visit your doctor.
Your doctor may ask you some questions about the symptoms you are having. They may also ask if you, a friend or family member have recently been travelling. If your doctor thinks you may have hepatitis A, they are likely to carry out a blood test to see if you have hepatitis A antibodies. If you had hepatitis A but have now recovered, you will have a different type of antibody in your blood.
Your doctor is also likely to do a liver function test (LFT), a type of blood test, to check how well your liver is working and if it is inflamed (swollen or irritated).
If you are worried that you may need a test for hepatitis A, download our factsheet: testing for viral hepatitis.