What is autoimmune hepatitis?

Autoimmune hepatitis is a type of liver inflammation in which the body’s immune cells attack healthy liver cells after mistaking them for disease-causing foreign substances. The liver assists the digestive system and carries out many other essential functions. These functions include producing bile to help break down food into energy; creating essential substances, such as hormones; cleaning toxins from the blood, including those from medication, alcohol and drugs; and controlling fat storage and cholesterol production and release.

Autoimmune hepatitis is a disease that affects two body systems, the liver, which is part of your gastrointestinal system, and your immune system. While other forms of hepatitis are caused by bacteria or viruses, in autoimmune hepatitis, the immune system itself attacks the liver cells because it cannot distinguish between harmful invaders and healthy liver tissue.

The prognosis for autoimmune hepatitis varies. In many people, corticosteroid therapy is effective in slowing or even stopping the disease’s progress. In other cases, autoimmune hepatitis may develop into cirrhosis, in which liver cells are replaced with scar tissue. Cirrhosis causes permanent liver dysfunction and may require a liver transplant.

All symptoms of autoimmune hepatitis require prompt attention, but some are more urgent than others. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) for serious symptoms associated with complications, such as confusion, agitation, severe abdominal swelling, severe abdominal pain, sweating, and severe difficulty breathing.

Seek prompt medical care if you experience abdominal swelling, dark urine, fatigue, malaise, itchy skin, loss of appetite, nausea with or without vomiting, or pale or clay-colored stools. Also seek prompt medical care if you are being treated for autoimmune hepatitis, but your symptoms recur or are persistent.


What are the symptoms of autoimmune hepatitis?

Symptoms of autoimmune hepatitis involve a variety of body systems, and the effects can range from reduced energy level to skin irritation to abdominal and gastrointestinal symptoms. You should seek medical attention for any one of these symptoms and seek immediate attention for symptoms associated with more serious stages and complications.... Read more about autoimmune hepatitissymptoms


What causes autoimmune hepatitis?

In autoimmune diseases, the immune system itself initiates inflammation because it cannot tell the difference between harmful invaders and healthy body tissue. Thus, in the case of autoimmune hepatitis, the body’s immune cells attack healthy cells in the liver after mistaking them for disease-causing foreign substances.... Read more about autoimmune hepatitiscauses


How is autoimmune hepatitis treated?

The treatment of autoimmune hepatitis begins with seeking medical care from your health care provider. If you have autoimmune hepatitis, your doctor will most likely start you on a course of corticosteroid therapy and, if needed, other immunosuppressants (medications that suppress the activity of the immune system). Following your treatment plan can slow or sometimes even stop the progression of this disease, and many people can have long, active lives with this disease. However, untreated or poorly treated autoimmune hepatitis may develop into cirrhosis, in which liver cells are replaced with scar tissue. Cirrhosis causes permanent liver dysfunction and may... Read more about autoimmune hepatitistreatments

Medical Reviewer: All content has been reviewed by board-certified physicians under the direction of Rich Klasco, M.D., FACEP. Last Annual Review Date: May 2, 2011 Copyright: © Copyright 2011 Health Grades, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Health Grades, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the HealthGrades User Agreement.

This Article is Filed Under: Digestive System

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