With the right treatment, autoimmune hepatitis usually can be controlled. Recent studies show that continued treatment not only stops the disease from getting worse, but it may reverse some of the damage.
Medicine helps to slow down an overactive immune system. Both types of autoimmune hepatitis are treated with daily doses of a steroid called prednisone.
Your child's doctor may start your child on a high dose and lower the dose as the disease is controlled. The goal is to find the lowest possible dose that will control your child's disease.
Patients who have no liver scarring and a mild case of autoimmune disease may be given budesonide. This drug is a form of steroid. It does not have the same level of side effects of prednisone.
Another medication, azathioprine, is also used to treat this disease. Like prednisone and budesonide, azathioprine slows down the immune system, but in a different way.
Treatment with azathioprine helps lower the dose of prednisone needed, thereby reducing steroid side effects. Your doctor may prescribe azathioprine in addition to prednisone once the disease is under control.
Most people with autoimmune hepatitis will need to take prednisone, with or without azathioprine, for years. Some people take it for life. These steroids may slow down the disease, but everyone is different.
In about one out of every four people, treatment eventually can be stopped. However, it is important to carefully watch your child's condition and report any new symptoms to the doctor. The disease may return and be even more severe, especially during the first few months after stopping treatment.
Both prednisone and azathioprine have side effects. Prednisone can cause fluid retention, high blood pressure, weight gain and the face to swell. Azathioprine can lower your child's white blood count and sometimes cause nausea and poor appetite.
People who progress to end stage liver disease (liver failure) may need a liver transplant. The outcome for patients with autoimmune hepatitis is excellent. Survival rates at transplant centers for this condition are well over 90 percent, with a good quality of life after recovery.