What is autoimmune hepatitis?
Autoimmune hepatitis affects the liver.
Autoimmune hepatitis is a disease in which the body’s immune
system attacks liver cells. This immune response causes
inflammation of the liver, also called hepatitis. Researchers
think a genetic factor may make some people more susceptible to
autoimmune diseases. About 70 percent of those with autoimmune
hepatitis are female.
The disease is usually quite serious and, if not treated,
gets worse over time. Autoimmune hepatitis is typically chronic,
meaning it can last for years, and can lead to
cirrhosis—scarring and hardening—of the liver. Eventually, liver
failure can result.
Autoimmune hepatitis is classified as type 1 or
type 2. Type 1 is the most common form in North
America. It can occur at any age but most often
starts in adolescence or young adulthood. About
half of those with type 1 have other autoimmune
disorders, such as
- type 1 diabetes
proliferative glomerulonephritis, an
inflammation of blood vessels in the kidneys
thyroiditis, an inflammation of the thyroid
- Graves’ disease, the leading
cause of overactive thyroid
Sjögren’s syndrome, a syndrome that causes
dry eyes and mouth autoimmune anemia
ulcerative colitis, an inflammation of the
colon and rectum leading to ulcers
Type 2 autoimmune hepatitis is less common,
typically affecting girls aged 2 to 14, although
adults can have it too.
One job of
the immune system is to protect the body from
viruses, bacteria, and other living organisms.
The immune system usually does not react against
the body’s own cells. However, sometimes it
attacks the cells it is supposed to protect;
this response is called autoimmunity.
Researchers think certain bacteria, viruses,
toxins, and drugs trigger an autoimmune response
in people who are genetically susceptible to
developing an autoimmune disorder.
Fatigue is probably the most common symptom of
autoimmune hepatitis. Other symptoms include
People in advanced
stages of the disease are more likely to have
symptoms related to chronic liver disease, such
as fluid in the abdomen—also called
ascites—and mental confusion. Women may stop
having menstrual periods.
autoimmune hepatitis range from mild to severe.
Because severe viral hepatitis or hepatitis
caused by a drug—for example, certain
antibiotics—have the same symptoms as autoimmune
hepatitis, tests may be needed for an exact
diagnosis. Doctors should also review and rule
out all medicines a patient is taking before
diagnosing autoimmune hepatitis.