Autoimmune Hepatitis

Autoimmune hepatitis is a disease where the body’s immune system attacks that cell in the liver which cases the liver to become inflamed.  Inflammation of the liver is referred to as hepatitis.

Autoimmune hepatitis is usually considered a chronic disease which means that it can last for years.  This chronic inflammation of the liver can lead to cirrhosis of the liver.  Cirrhosis is scarring and hardening of the liver.  Depending on the severity of the disease, it can eventually lead to liver failure.

Researchers believe that autoimmune hepatitis is caused by a genetic factor that may make certain people more susceptible to autoimmune hepatitis.  Of those individuals who have autoimmune hepatitis, about 70 percent are female.  One of the main jobs of the immune system is to protect the body from viruses, bacteria, and other living organisms.  In the case of an autoimmune disease the immune systems attacks the cells that it supposed to protect.  This response is referred to as autoimmunity.  Researchers think that there are certain things (such as bacteria, viruses, toxins and drugs) that can trigger an autoimmune response in people who are genetically susceptible to having an autoimmune disorder.

The most common symptom of autoimmune hepatitis is fatigue.  Other symptoms associated with autoimmune hepatitis include: an enlarged liver, jaundice, itching, skin rashes, joint pain, abdominal discomfort, spider angiomas (abnormal blood vessels on the skin), nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, dark urine, pale or gray-colored stools.  Symptoms range in severity from mild to severe.  Individuals who have advanced stages of the disease are more likely to have symptoms that are associated with chronic liver disease, such as ascites (fluid in the abdomen), and mental confusion.  Women with the disease may have stop having menstrual periods.

Treatment is usually the most successful when it is diagnosed early.  The disease can usually be controlled with proper treatment.  The main treatment for autoimmune hepatitis is medication that can usually suppress an overactive immune system.  Autoimmune is usually treated with prednisone and azathioprine (Imuran). Studies have shown that about seven out of 10 people with the disease go into remission within 3 years of starting treatment.

1. “Autoimmune Hepatitis.”  Mayo Clinic.  Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research (MFMER).  April 18, 2012.  Web 3 Oct 2013.
2.  “Autoimmune Hepatitis.”  National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse (NDDIC).  NIH Publication.  February 16, 2012.  Web 3 Oct 2013.