Autoimmune hepatitis is inflammation of the liver that develops when your immune system mistakes normal cells in the liver for invasive cells and attacks them. Autoimmune hepatitis is a type of autoimmune disease, which means that the immune system is unable to differentiate between healthy bodily tissue and harmful, invasive substances.
In patients that suffer from autoimmune diseases like autoimmune hepatitis, the immune system attacks and destroys normal body tissues, often leaving the patient weakened and more susceptible to illness. Other types of autoimmune diseases include inflammatory bowel disease and ulcerative colitis.
Autoimmune hepatitis most frequently develops in young girls and women, and is often found in relatives of others with the condition, which suggests that the disease may have genetic components to it.
Autoimmune hepatitis is classified as either type one or type two. Type one is the most common type of the condition in the United States, and often develops during adolescence, though it can onset at any age. Type-two autoimmune hepatitis generally affects young girls between the age of two and fourteen.
Autoimmune hepatitis is often chronic, and if left untreated may lead to cirrhosis of the liver.
Symptoms of Autoimmune Hepatitis
One of the most common symptoms of autoimmune hepatitis is fatigue. Those who are in the more advanced stages of the condition often experience symptoms that are related to chronic liver disease, such as fluid in the abdomen and mental confusion. Women with advanced autoimmune hepatitis may stop having their menstrual period.
The most common signs and symptoms of autoimmune hepatitis range from mild to severe, and include:
- An enlarged liver
- Rashes on the skin
- Joint pain
- Abdominal discomfort
- Abnormal blood vessels
- Nausea and vomiting
- Loss of appetite
- Dark urine
- Pale or gray-colored stools
Diagnosis of Autoimmune Hepatitis
The symptoms of autoimmune hepatitis are similar to a number of other autoimmune disorders, so your gastroenterologist will likely recommend a number of tests to ensure the proper diagnosis. In some situations, certain medications such as antibiotics could cause viral hepatitis, so your physician may review and remove certain medicines from your diet prior to offering a diagnosis.
If your gastroenterologist suspects that you have autoimmune hepatitis, then he may recommend a blood test so he can evaluate your blood for antibodies, or for certain trends that are typical of hepatitis. A liver biopsy may also be recommended, during which your physician will obtain a tissue sample from your liver for further evaluation.
Treatment for Autoimmune Hepatitis
If you are diagnosed with autoimmune hepatitis then your gastroenterologist will provide you with details about treatment options that are ideal for you. Treatment for autoimmune hepatitis often works best when the condition is diagnosed early.
One of the primary forms of treatment for autoimmune hepatitis is medication to suppress the overactive immune system. In nearly 70% of individuals, autoimmune hepatitis will go into remission within three years of treatment. Although the condition may enter remission, your gastroenterologist may recommend that you continue treatment after the symptoms are gone to prevent the condition from returning.