Autoimmune hepatitis is a liver disease in which the body’s immune system attacks healthy tissue and cells instead of attacking infected tissue and cells. Although this disease is rare, it can cause serious liver damage. You can find more information below.
What is autoimmune hepatitis?
Autoimmune hepatitis is liver inflammation that occurs when your body’s immune system attacks liver cells. The exact cause of autoimmune hepatitis is unclear, but it appears to be caused by genetic and environmental factors triggering the disease.
If the disease is left untreated, it can lead to scarring of the liver (cirrhosis) and eventually to liver failure. However, when diagnosed and treated early, autoimmune hepatitis can often be controlled with drugs that suppress the immune system. Liver transplantation may be an option when the disease does not respond to drug therapy or in cases of advanced liver disease .
Causes of autoimmune hepatitis
This type of hepatitis occurs when the body’s immune system, which normally attacks viruses, bacteria, and other pathogens, targets the liver. This attack on your liver can lead to chronic inflammation and serious damage to liver cells.
It’s not clear why the body attacks its own healthy tissue, but researchers think this type of hepatitis may be caused by the interaction of genes that control immune system function and exposure to certain viruses or drugs.
Types of autoimmune hepatitis
Doctors have identified two main forms :
- Type 1 autoimmune hepatitis: This is the most common type of the disease. It can occur at any age. About half of people with type 1 autoimmune hepatitis have other autoimmune disorders such as celiac disease, rheumatoid arthritis , or ulcerative colitis .
- Type 2 autoimmune hepatitis: It is most common in children and teenagers, although adults can also develop this type 2 of the disease. Other autoimmune diseases may accompany this type of autoimmune hepatitis.
Who is at risk?
Factors that can increase your risk of autoimmune hepatitis include:
- Being a woman: Although both men and women can develop this disease, the disease is more common in women.
- History of certain infections: This type of hepatitis can develop after being infected with measles, herpes simplex, or the Epstein-Barr virus. The disease is also linked to hepatitis A, B or C infection.
- Heredity: Evidence suggests an inherited susceptibility to this disease among family members.
- Having an autoimmune disease: People with an autoimmune disease such as celiac disease, rheumatoid arthritis or Hashimoto’s disease may be more likely to develop this condition.
What are the symptoms of autoimmune hepatitis?
Symptoms of the disease vary from person to person and can appear suddenly. Some people have little-known problems in the early stages of the disease, while others experience symptoms that may include:
- abdominal discomfort
- Yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes (jaundice)
- an enlarged liver
- Abnormal blood vessels in the skin (spider angiomas)
- skin rashes
- joint pains
- Irregular menstrual periods
When should you see a doctor?
If you have any symptoms that worry you, you should make an appointment with your doctor as soon as possible.
Diagnosis of autoimmune hepatitis
Tests and procedures used to diagnose autoimmune hepatitis include:
- Blood tests: Testing a sample of your blood for antibodies can distinguish this type of hepatitis from viral hepatitis and other conditions with similar symptoms. Antibody tests also help identify the type of autoimmune hepatitis you have.
- Liver biopsy: Doctors perform a liver biopsy to confirm the diagnosis and determine the extent and type of liver damage. During the procedure, a small amount of liver tissue is removed using a fine needle that is passed into your liver through a small incision in your skin. The sample is then sent to a laboratory for analysis.
Autoimmune hepatitis treatment
No matter what type of autoimmune hepatitis you have, the goal of treatment is to slow or stop the immune system attack on your liver. This can help slow the progression of the disease. To achieve this goal, you will need drugs that reduce immune system activity. Initial treatment is usually prednisone . A second drug, azathioprine , may be recommended in addition to prednisone .
Prednisone, especially when taken long-term, can cause a wide variety of serious side effects , including diabetes , osteoporosis , avascular necrosis (osteonecrosis), high blood pressure, cataracts, glaucoma, and weight gain.
Doctors typically prescribe high doses of prednisone during the first month of treatment. Then, to reduce the risk of side effects, they gradually reduce the dose over the next few months until they reach the lowest possible dose that controls the disease. Your doctor ‘s addition of azathioprine also helps you avoid prednisone side effects.
Most people should continue to take prednisone for at least 18 to 24 months, and many should take it for life. You may experience remission for several years after starting treatment, but the disease usually returns if the drug is discontinued.
Remember, your doctor will decide which medicine to take and how.
If medications don’t stop the progression of the disease, if you develop cirrhosis or liver failure , the remaining option is a liver transplant. During a liver transplant, your diseased liver is removed and replaced with a healthy liver from a donor. Liver transplants are mostly performed using the livers of deceased organ donors.
Complications of autoimmune hepatitis
Untreated autoimmune hepatitis can cause permanent scarring of liver tissue (cirrhosis). Complications of cirrhosis include:
- Esophageal varices: When circulation through the portal vein is blocked, blood can back up into other blood vessels, especially blood in your stomach and esophagus. Blood vessels are thin-walled and there is a possibility of bleeding as they are filled with more blood than they are intended to carry. Major bleeding in the esophagus or stomach is a life-threatening emergency that requires immediate medical attention.
- Fluid buildup: Liver disease can cause large amounts of fluid to build up in your abdomen. Ascites can be bothersome, interfere with breathing, and is often a sign of advanced cirrhosis.
- Liver failure: This occurs when extensive damage to liver cells makes it impossible for your liver to function adequately. At this point, a liver transplant is necessary.
- Liver cancer: People with cirrhosis have an increased risk of liver cancer.