Autoimmune Hepatitis: Symptoms, Treatment

Overview

Autoimmune hepatitis refers to a chronic disease in which your body’s immune system attacks the liver cells, causing liver inflammation and damage. As this condition gets worse over time, it may lead to cirrhosis (scarring of the liver) and eventually to liver failure. Although there is no cure for autoimmune hepatitis, it often can be well controlled if diagnosed and treated early.

There are two types of autoimmune hepatitis: type 1 and type 2. In these two types, the immune system makes different autoantibodies. Type 1 autoimmune hepatitis is more common than Type 2 autoimmune hepatitis that mainly affects children and young people.

According to a study conducted in northern European countries, between 10 and 24 out of 100,000 people have this condition.

Symptoms

People with autoimmune hepatitis may experience different signs or symptoms. While some people have few problems in the early stages, others may have symptoms, such as:

  • Fatigue
  • Poor appetite
  • Abdominal discomfort
  • Yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes (jaundice)
  • An enlarged liver
  • Abnormal blood vessels on the skin (spider angiomas)
  • Skin rashes
  • Joint pains
  • Loss of menstrual periods

Causes

It is unknown why your immune system mistakenly attacks the liver cells. Some researchers argue that the interaction of genes and environmental factors is related to this condition. Factors that possibly trigger autoimmune hepatitis include:

  • Medicines such as statins or antibiotics
  • Stress
  • Infections such as hepatitis, herpes

Risk factors

The following factors may increase your risk of having autoimmune hepatitis:

  • Female gender
  • A history of certain infections
  • Heredity
  • Having an autoimmune disease

Complications

If you are unable to treat autoimmune hepatitis in time, it may bring about cirrhosis which can cause complications, including:

  • Enlarged veins in your esophagus
  • Fluid in your abdomen
  • Liver failure
  • Liver cancer

Diagnosis

Doctors diagnose autoimmune hepatitis with the medical history, a physical exam ,and tests. Tests include:

  • Blood tests: to distinguish autoimmune hepatitis from viral hepatitis and other conditions by testing a sample of your blood for antibodies.
  • Liver biopsy: to confirm the diagnosis and to determine the degree and type of liver damage.

Treatment

Treatment for autoimmune hepatitis focuses on slowing or even stopping the attack of your immune system so that the progression of the disease can be slowed. Doctors usually recommend prednisone and azathioprine. But if you take prednisone for the long term, it will cause many serious side effects, such as diabetes and broken bones.

In order to avoid these side effects, doctors usually prescribe it at a high dose for the first month of treatment and gradually reduce the dose over the next several months. Azathioprine may also be added to help to avoid side effects.

If medications don’t help or you develop cirrhosis or liver failure, a liver transplant may be needed.


Keyword: autoimmune hepatitis.

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* The Content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.