What is Autoimmune Hepatitis?
Autoimmune hepatitis occurs when the body’s immune system begins to attack liver cells, causing liver inflammation. This disease occurs when the immune system mistakenly targets the liver, which can lead to inflammation and damage to the liver cells. While the exact cause of this disease is unknown, genetic and environmental factors seem to work together as a trigger.
The signs and symptoms of autoimmune hepatitis may vary or come on suddenly. These may include:
- Abdominal discomfort
- Swelling of the abdomen due to large liver or spleen
- Yellowing of the skin or eyes (jaundice)
- Visible blood vessels on the skin
- Joint pain
- Loss of menstrual periods in women
Certain individuals may be more likely to develop autoimmune hepatitis if they have other autoimmune conditions such as thyroiditis, Grave’s disease, type 1 diabetes, celiac disease, or ulcerative colitis. This disease is also more common in females than males. In rare situations, certain medications may cause autoimmune hepatitis.
How is Autoimmune Hepatitis Diagnosed?
Your provider will speak with you regarding your medical history and current symptoms, as well as perform a physical exam. There is a selection of different tests that may also be performed to best diagnose this condition. Testing may include lab blood tests, as well as CT scan, MRI or ultrasound. A liver biopsy may be needed, in which a small amount of tissue from the liver is removed using a very thin needle that is passed into the liver through a small incision.
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Autoimmune Hepatitis Treatment Options
If left untreated, this condition can lead to cirrhosis or the liver, or eventually liver failure. When treated early enough, however, autoimmune hepatitis can be controlled with medications that can slow or stop the immune system attack on the liver. Treatment options include the following:
The first treatments used include medications that lower the immune system. A corticosteroid called prednisone may be used as an initial treatment, though it should not be used over long periods of time. Once your overactive immune system has been calmed by prednisone, immune system suppressing medications such as azathioprine (Imuran) can be taken. It can take from six months to one year for the disease to go into remission. However, if medication is stopped, symptoms often return. Your provider will work with you to determine the best plan of action for your individual case to ensure your symptoms are under control.
In cases where medication has not slowed the progress of autoimmune hepatitis, or cirrhosis or liver failure has occurred, a liver transplant is an option.
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At South Denver GI, our team of physicians and advanced practice providers have the expertise to provide you with outstanding care. If you would like to learn more about Autoimmune Hepatitis or need to schedule an appointment at our office, contact us today!
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