Autoimmune Hepatitis

What is autoimmune hepatitis?

Autoimmune hepatitis is when your
body’s infection-fighting system (immune system) attacks your liver cells. This causes
redness and swelling (inflammation) and liver damage.

It is a long-term or chronic inflammatory liver disease.

There are 2 types of autoimmune hepatitis: type 1 (classic) or type 2.

Type 1 (classic)

  • Is the most common form of the disease
  • May occur at any age but usually starts when you are a teen or young adult
  • Affects women more than men
  • Is often linked to other diseases where the body attacks itself (autoimmune disorders). These may include thyroiditis, Grave’s disease, type 1 diabetes, and ulcerative colitis.

Type 2

  • Is less common
  • Most often affects girls between
    ages 2 and 14

The liver is a large organ that
sits up under your ribs on the right side of your belly (abdomen). It helps filter
waste from your body, makes bile to help digest food, and stores sugar that your body
uses for energy.

What causes autoimmune hepatitis?

Experts don’t know what causes autoimmune hepatitis.

It is linked to a disorder called hypergammaglobulinemia. This disorder occurs when you have too many protein antibodies in your blood. It may be caused by a long-term (chronic) infection or certain blood diseases.

Type 1 autoimmune hepatitis is linked to other disorders where the body attacks itself (autoimmune disorders). These may include:

  • Thyroiditis
  • Grave’s disease
  • Type 1 diabetes
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Hemolytic anemia
  • Immune thrombocytopenia
  • Celiac disease
  • Ulcerative colitis

What are the symptoms of autoimmune hepatitis?

Each person’s symptoms may vary.
Some people may have no symptoms or very mild ones, while others can have severe disease
and symptoms. Some of the most common symptoms may include:

  • Extreme tiredness (fatigue)
  • Yellowing of the skin and eyes (jaundice)
  • Belly (abdominal) pain
  • Joint pain or swelling
  • Mild flu-like symptoms
  • Itching
  • Large abdomen due to large liver and spleen
  • Spiderlike blood vessels in the skin

Other autoimmune hepatitis symptoms may include:

  • Dark urine
  • Pale or gray-colored stools
  • Stop in menstrual periods in
    women
  • Loss of appetite
  • Fluid buildup in the belly (ascites)
  • Confusion
  • Rectal bleeding or vomiting blood

The symptoms of autoimmune hepatitis may look like other health problems. Always see your healthcare provider for a diagnosis.

How is autoimmune hepatitis diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will look at your health history and give you a physical exam.

Some lab blood tests used to diagnose autoimmune hepatitis include:

  • Liver function tests. These check for any redness and
    swelling (inflammation) or damage to your liver.
  • Complete blood count or CBC. Looks at the number and types
    of cells in your blood.
  • Coagulation panel. This test looks at how well the
    clotting proteins are working.
  • Electrolyte panel. Checks to see if you have too many or
    too few minerals (electrolyte imbalance) in your blood.
  • Autoimmune antibodies. These are used to see if you have
    autoimmune hepatitis or another liver disease with similar symptoms.
  • Other liver tests. These are done to check for other
    possible types of liver disease. 
  • Tests for other chemicals in your body.

You may also have imaging tests such as:

  • CT scan. This is more detailed than a standard X-ray. It
    can show detailed images of any part of the body, including the bones, muscles, fat,
    and organs. It uses both X-rays and computer technology to make horizontal images
    (often called slices) of the body.
  • MRI. This test makes detailed pictures of organs and
    structures inside your body. It uses a magnetic field and pulses of radio wave
    energy. A dye may be shot or injected into your vein. The dye helps the liver and
    other organs in the belly to be seen more clearly on the scan.
  • Ultrasound. This uses high frequency sound waves to create
    a picture of the organs. It can also check blood flow in blood vessels.
  • Liver biopsy. Small tissue samples are taken from your
    liver with a needle. These samples are checked under a microscope to find out the
    type of liver disease you have.