Disease: Autoimmune hepatitis

Overview

Autoimmune hepatitis is liver inflammation that occurs when your body's immune system turns against liver cells. The exact cause of autoimmune hepatitis is unclear, but genetic and environmental factors appear to interact over time in triggering the disease.

Untreated autoimmune hepatitis can lead to scarring of the liver (cirrhosis) and eventually to liver failure. When diagnosed and treated early, however, autoimmune hepatitis often can be controlled with drugs that suppress the immune system.

A liver transplant may be an option when autoimmune hepatitis doesn't respond to drug treatments or when liver disease is advanced.

Source: http://www.mayoclinic.com

Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of autoimmune hepatitis can range from minor to severe and may come on suddenly. Some people have few, if any, recognized problems in the early stages of the disease, whereas others experience signs and symptoms that may include:

  • Fatigue
  • Abdominal discomfort
  • Yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes (jaundice)
  • An enlarged liver
  • Abnormal blood vessels on the skin (spider angiomas)
  • Skin rashes
  • Joint pains
  • In women, loss of menstruation

When to see a doctor

Make an appointment with your doctor if you have any signs or symptoms that worry you.

Source: http://www.mayoclinic.com

Causes

Autoimmune hepatitis occurs when the body's immune system, which ordinarily attacks viruses, bacteria and other pathogens, instead targets the liver. This attack on your liver can lead to chronic inflammation and serious damage to liver cells. Just why the body turns against itself is unclear, but researchers think autoimmune hepatitis could be caused by the interaction of genes controlling immune-system function and exposure to particular viruses or drugs.

Types of autoimmune hepatitis

Doctors have identified two main forms of autoimmune hepatitis:

  • Type 1 autoimmune hepatitis. This is the most common type of the disease. It can occur at any age. About half the people with type 1 autoimmune hepatitis have other autoimmune disorders, such as celiac disease, rheumatoid arthritis or ulcerative colitis.
  • Type 2 autoimmune hepatitis. Although adults can develop type 2 autoimmune hepatitis, it's most common in children and young people. Other autoimmune diseases may also accompany this type of autoimmune hepatitis.

Source: http://www.mayoclinic.com

Diagnosis

Tests and procedures used to diagnose autoimmune hepatitis include:

  • Blood tests. Testing a sample of your blood for antibodies can distinguish autoimmune hepatitis from viral hepatitis and other disorders with similar symptoms. Antibody tests also help pinpoint the type of autoimmune hepatitis you have.
  • Liver biopsy. Doctors perform a liver biopsy to confirm the diagnosis and to determine the degree and type of liver damage. During the procedure, a small amount of liver tissue is removed, using a thin needle that's passed into your liver through your skin. The sample is then sent to a laboratory for analysis. Your doctor may use ultrasound to guide the biopsy.

Source: http://www.mayoclinic.com

Complications

Autoimmune hepatitis that goes untreated can cause permanent scarring of the liver tissue (cirrhosis). Complications of cirrhosis include:

  • Enlarged veins in your esophagus (esophageal varices). When circulation through the portal vein is blocked, blood may back up into other blood vessels — mainly those in your stomach and esophagus. The blood vessels are thin walled, and because they're filled with more blood than they're meant to carry, they're likely to bleed. Massive bleeding in the esophagus or stomach from these blood vessels is a life-threatening emergency that requires immediate medical care.
  • Fluid in your abdomen (ascites). Liver disease can cause large amounts of fluid to accumulate in your abdomen. Ascites can be uncomfortable and may interfere with breathing and is usually a sign of advanced cirrhosis.
  • Liver failure. This occurs when extensive damage to liver cells makes it impossible for your liver to function adequately. At this point, a liver transplant is needed.
  • Liver cancer. People with cirrhosis have an increased risk of liver cancer.

Source: http://www.mayoclinic.com

Risk factors

Factors that may increase your risk of autoimmune hepatitis include:

  • Being female. Although both men and women can develop autoimmune hepatitis, the disease is more common in women.
  • A history of certain infections. Autoimmune hepatitis may develop after you're infected with the measles, herpes simplex or Epstein-Barr virus. The disease is also linked to hepatitis A, B or C infection.
  • Heredity. Evidence suggests that a predisposition to autoimmune hepatitis may run in families.
  • Having an autoimmune disease. People who already have an autoimmune disease, such as celiac disease, rheumatoid arthritis or hyperthyroidism (Graves' disease or Hashimoto's thyroiditis), may be more likely to develop autoimmune hepatitis.

Source: http://www.mayoclinic.com

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