Autoimmune hepatitis is a condition in which the immune system develops antibodies and activates immune cells which attack the liver, causing an inflammatory process that result in liver cell injury and fibrosis.
If left untreated, autoimmune hepatitis (AIH) may lead to cirrhosis and ultimately liver failure. When diagnosed and treated early, autoimmune hepatitis can be managed with immunosuppressant medications.
Causes of Autoimmune Hepatitis
Autoimmune hepatitis is caused by a combination of autoimmunity, environmental, and genetic factors.
There are at least two types of autoimmune hepatitis:
- Type 1, or classic autoimmune hepatitis, the most common type, may develop at any age. Many patients are found to also have another autoimmune disorder such as celiac disease, rheumatoid arthritis, or Crohn’s disease, thyroiditis or type I diabetes mellitus.
- Type 2 autoimmune hepatitis, mostly affects young girls.
Symptoms of Autoimmune Hepatitis
Symptoms may range from mild to severe, and these may develop rapidly or gradually.
- Abdominal pain
- Joint pain
- Itching (pruritus)
- Enlarged liver
- Abnormal blood vessels on the skin (spider angiomas)
- Nausea and vomiting
- Loss of appetite
- Skin rashes
- Dark-colored urine, light colored stools
If diagnosed early, medication to suppress the immune system may be successful; options include corticosteroids and immunosuppressants.
If autoimmune hepatitis continues to progress to cirrhosis and end-stage liver failure, a liver transplant may be required.