Autoimmune Hepatitis

Autoimmune hepatitis is liver inflammation caused by the immune system attacking the liver. The exact cause of the immune system attacking the liver is not known, but genes may play a role. It is more common in certain families, ethnic groups and females. Outside factors such as viruses and medications can also cause autoimmune hepatitis.

Autoimmune hepatitis is a chronic illness but is usually easily treated with medication to prevent worsening complications. If not treated, it can lead to permanent damage to the liver, cirrhosis, liver failure, and the need for liver transplant.

What are the symptoms of Autoimmune Hepatitis?

Many signs and symptoms of autoimmune hepatitis can be seen in other causes of liver inflammation. These include yellow eyes, yellow skin (jaundice), dark urine, itching (pruritis), fatigue, abdominal pain, and poor appetite. Some people have no symptoms at all and just have abnormal liver tests.

How is Autoimmune Hepatitis diagnosed in children?

Lab tests are used to rule out infections and other causes of abnormal liver tests. If lab tests suggest that the immune system is attacking the liver, a liver biopsy (en Español)  is needed to confirm the diagnosis. In addition, blood work is useful to monitor the amount of liver injury and checking on liver function and response to treatment with medication. A special type of MRI called magnetic resonance cholangiography or MRCP is often checked to make sure the immune system is not attacking the bile ducts which drain bile from the liver to the small intestine to help with digestion.

What is the treatment for Autoimmune Hepatitis?

Since this disease is caused by the immune system attacking the liver, treatment is aimed at lowering the immune system function. This can lead to a higher chance of infections. Other side effects depend on what medications are used to treat the disease.

What is the long-term outlook of Autoimmune Hepatitis?

Most people will need to be on medicine lifelong, but they do well and live a normal life. A small number of people do not get better with medication and develop scarring of the liver, or cirrhosis. Some of these people will go on to need a liver transplant because the liver stops working properly or they get liver cancer. People who stay on medication long-term require routine lab monitoring to check control of the disease and to look for side effects of medication.

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