• acute exacerbation;
  • HBV reactivation;
  • hepatic decompensation;
  • liver cirrhosis;
  • natural course

ABSTRACT— To examine the early stage of the natural course of liver cirrhosis, a prospective follow-up study was conducted in a series of 76 patients with recent development of cirrhosis during the course of chronic type B hepatitis. During a mean follow-up period of 34.4 months, 45 episodes of acute exacerbation were recorded; the majority of the episodes occurred within 2 years after entry. The calculated annual incidence of acute exacerbation was significantly higher in patients seropositive for hepatitis B e antigen (HBeAg) and/or hepatitis B virus (HBV)-DNA (25.9%) than in those without these markers (11.9%). Three-fourths of the acute exacerbations were attributable to the reactivation of HBV. Spontaneous HBeAg seroconversion to anti-HBe also occurred in the early phase, but less than 30% of the events were preceded by acute exacerbation. Late hepatitis B surface antigen clearance occurred in two patients. Hepatic decompensation, esophageal variceal bleeding and hepatocellular carcinoma developed relatively late in the course of the disease with a calculated annual incidence of 2.3%, 2.3% and 2.8%, respectively. Seven patients (9.2%) died of hepatic failure or variceal bleeding, usually more than 3 years after entry. The estimated 5-year survival rate was 80%. The results suggest that the natural events of chronic HBV infection, including exacerbation, seroconversion and its sequelae could occur after the development of cirrhosis. In addition, these events might be responsible for the clinicopathological changes and the outcomes of these cirrhotic patients.