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What is Autoimmune Hepatitis?

Hepatitis is a general term for inflammation of the liver. Autoimmune hepatitis is rare condition in which inflammation of the liver is caused by the body's own immune system attacking the liver cells and causing liver damage.

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Over time, the body’s attack on the liver can lead to severe liver damage, cirrhosis and even liver failure. Autoimmune hepatitis is more common in women than men and in those who have other autoimmune conditions. The cause of autoimmune hepatitis is unknown, but researchers believe that genetic and environmental factors may play a role.

Diagnosing Autoimmune Hepatitis

Many people with autoimmune hepatitis do not have any symptoms but if symptoms do exist they may include:

  • Fatigue (the most common symptom)
  • Joint pain
  • Skin rashes
  • Abdominal discomfort, nausea or vomiting
  • Yellowing of the skin or eyes (jaundice)

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms and your doctor suspects autoimmune hepatitis, the diagnosis will be confirmed through blood tests, imaging tests and often a liver biopsy. For those without symptoms, the disorder may be discovered during routine lab tests performed for another reason.

How is Autoimmune Hepatitis Treated?

The treatment plan for autoimmune hepatitis will depend on the extent of the disease and the severity of symptoms. Not everyone will require immediate treatment and some will only need periodic blood tests to monitor their condition. For those who require treatment the following may be recommended:

  • Steroids such as Prednisone
  • Medications that suppress the immune system

In some rare cases, a liver transplant may be needed.

Autoimmune hepatitis is a chronic disease but the prognosis is generally good with early detection and treatment. However, many people will need lifelong maintenance therapy, which will require ongoing care by a UH liver specialist.

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