Autoimmune Hepatitis

Autoimmune hepatitis is a condition in which the body's immune system develops antibodies that attack the liver, causing an inflammatory process that leads to hepatitis.

Left untreated, autoimmune hepatitis can lead to cirrhosis and ultimately liver failure. When diagnosed and treated early, autoimmune hepatitis can be managed with immunosuppressant medications. In advanced cases, a liver transplant may be necessary.

Causes of autoimmune hepatitis

Autoimmune hepatitis is likely caused by a combination of autoimmunity, environmental factors, and genetic factors.

There are two types:

  • Type 1, or classic autoimmune hepatitis, can develop at any age. This is the most common form of autoimmune hepatitis, and about half of patients have another form of autoimmune disease such as celiac disease, rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn’s disease, or other.
  • Type 2 autoimmune hepatitis most commonly affects young girls.

Symptoms of autoimmune hepatitis

Symptoms may range from mild to severe, and they may develop rapidly or gradually.

  • Fatigue
  • Abdominal pain
  • Joint pain
  • Itching (pruritus)
  • Jaundice
  • An enlarged liver
  • Abnormal blood vessels on the skin (spider angiomas)
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Loss of appetite
  • Skin rashes
  • Dark-colored urine, light colored stools
  • In women, loss of menstruation

Treatment of autoimmune hepatitis

If autoimmune hepatitis is diagnosed early, medication to suppress the immune system may be successful. It can be controlled with medication in most cases.

Medications may include corticosteroids and immunosuppressants such as azathioprine.

If autoimmune hepatitis continues to progress to cirrhosis and end-stage liver failure, a liver transplant may be required.