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Definition

What is autoimmune hepatitis?

Autoimmune hepatitis is a disease that occurs when your body’s immune system turns against liver cells. The exact cause of autoimmune hepatitis is not clear, but genetic and environmental elements appear to interact over time in triggering the disease. Untreated autoimmune hepatitis can bring about scarring of the liver (cirrhosis) and finally to liver failure. When diagnosed and treated early, however, autoimmune hepatitis often can be controlled with drugs that suppress the immune system.

How common is autoimmune hepatitis?

Autoimmune hepatitis may occur in family members of people with autoimmune diseases. There may be a genetic cause. This disease is most common in young girls and women. Please discuss with your doctor for further information.

Symptoms

What are the symptoms of autoimmune hepatitis?

Symptoms of autoimmune hepatitis manifest from mild to severe. In the early stages of this condition, you may experience no symptoms, but in later stages, symptoms can appear suddenly and more severely. They may also slowly develop over time.

Autoimmune hepatitis symptoms include:

  • Enlarged liver (hepatomegaly)
  • Abnormal blood vessels on the skin (spider angiomas)
  • Abdominal distention (swelling)
  • Dark urine
  • Pale-colored stools

Some additional signs and symptoms that may occur include:

  • Yellowing of the skin and eyes (jaundice)
  • Itching caused by a build-up of toxins and bile
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Joint pain
  • Abdominal discomfort

When should I see my doctor?

If you have any signs or symptoms listed above or have any questions, please consulting with your doctor. Everyone’s body acts differently. It is always best to discuss with your doctor what is best for your situation.

Causes

What causes autoimmune hepatitis?

Autoimmune hepatitis occurs when the body’s immune system, which ordinarily attacks pathogens such as viruses, bacteria instead targets the liver cells. This attack on your liver cells can lead to chronic inflammation and serious damage to liver. Just why the body turns against itself is unclear, but researchers think autoimmune hepatitis could be caused by the interaction of genes controlling immune-system function and exposure to particular viruses or drugs.

Nowadays, doctors have specified two main types of autoimmune hepatitis:

Type 1 autoimmune hepatitis

This is considered as the most common type of the disease. It can occur at any groups of age. About half the people with type 1 autoimmune hepatitis have other autoimmune disorders, such as celiac disease, rheumatoid arthritis or ulcerative colitis.

Type 2 autoimmune hepatitis

Although adults can develop type 2 autoimmune hepatitis, it’s most common in children and young people. Other autoimmune diseases may also accompany this type of autoimmune hepatitis.

Risk factors

What increases my risk for autoimmune hepatitis?

There are many risk factors for autoimmune hepatitis, such as:

  • A family history of autoimmune hepatitis
  • Being female
  • A history of bacterial or viral infections
  • The use of certain medications, such as minocycline

Several other autoimmune conditions are able to engender symptoms of liver disease and are also related to the development of autoimmune hepatitis. These diseases include:

  • Grave’s disease
  • Thyroiditis
  • Ulcerative colitis
  • Type I diabetes
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Scleroderma
  • Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)
  • Systemic lupus erythematosus
  • Sjögren’s syndrome

Diagnosis & treatment

The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.

How is autoimmune hepatitis diagnosed?

If your doctor suspects that you may experience this condition, a physical examination will be performed and some tests will be also recommended by your doctor. Tests and procedures used to diagnose autoimmune hepatitis include:

Blood tests

Testing a sample of your blood for antibodies can differentiate autoimmune hepatitis from viral hepatitis and other disorders with similar symptoms. Antibody tests also help pinpoint the type of autoimmune hepatitis you have.

Liver biopsy

Doctors perform a liver biopsy to confirm the diagnosis and to identify the degree and type of liver damage. During the procedure, a small amount of liver tissue is removed, using a thin needle that’s passed into your liver through your skin. The sample is then sent to a laboratory for analysis.  Moreover, your doctor may use ultrasound to guide the biopsy.

How is autoimmune hepatitis treated?

Treatment can slow down, stop, and sometimes reverse liver damage.

Drugs and medication

Immunosuppressant drugs can be used to prevent the immune system’s attack. Such drugs include 6-mercaptopurine and azathioprine. Taking immunosuppressant drugs may compromise your body’s ability to fight other infections.

Additionally, corticosteroids, usually in the form of prednisone, can directly treat liver inflammation.

Surgery

A liver transplant (replacing your liver with a donor organ) can cure autoimmune hepatitis. However, the disease can sometimes recur even after a transplant. According to the National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse (NDDIC), there is a 90 percent one-year survival rate for patients who have a transplant. The five-year survival rate is 70 to 80 percent.

Lifestyle changes & home remedies

What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage autoimmune hepatitis?

The following lifestyles and home remedies might help you cope with autoimmune hepatitis:

Autoimmune hepatitis cannot be prevented in most cases. Knowing the risk factors may help you detect and treat the disease early.

If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Sources

Review Date: August 8, 2017 | Last Modified: August 8, 2017

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