What is autoimmune hepatitis?

Autoimmune hepatitis occurs when the body’s immune system attacks the liver cells. There is no cure for this condition, but liver failure  treatment helps manage the symptoms and prevents further damage to the liver. It is a liver condition that must be managed throughout life.

Doctors are still not sure how this happens in the body. It could have something to do with genes since autoimmune hepatitis most likely runs in the family.

Symptoms

The symptoms can be mild or severe based on the individual’s severity of the disease.

  • Acne
  • Skin rashes
  • Lack of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Muscle pain
  • Joint pain
  • Enlarged spleen
  • Lack of menstrual periods
  • Diarrhoea
  • Light-coloured stools
  • Yellowness of the skin called jaundice
  • Dark urine 
  • Weight loss
  • Belly pain
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting 
  • Gall stones

What are the types of autoimmune hepatitis?

 There are two types of autoimmune hepatitis; both are relatively rare diseases.

  • Type 1 hepatitis is the more common type. More than half of people with Type 1 hepatitis have other autoimmune disorders, such as celiac disease, rheumatoid arthritis or ulcerative colitis.
  • Type 2 hepatitis is more likely to develop in children and young adults than adults. You are also more likely to develop other autoimmune diseases if you have type-2 hepatitis.

If you have autoimmune hepatitis, you may also have lupus, ulcerative colitis, Sjogren’s syndrome or rheumatoid arthritis. 

What causes autoimmune hepatitis?

Apart from being related to your genome, the other likely cause is that your body would have come into contact with something which would have set the autoimmune hepatitis in motion. You could have come in contact with infections such as herpes, measles, Epstein-Barr and viral hepatitis. A lot of stress is also a risk factor.

Diagnosis of autoimmune hepatitis 

Medical history 

Your doctor will ask you about your symptoms. They will also enquire about the medicines you take and how much alcohol you consume. 

Doctors will also want to know whether you suffer from other health conditions.

Physical exams

During a physical exam, the liver transplant surgeons checks for signs of liver damage in the body. The symptoms of a damaged liver are swelling in the lower legs and other parts of the body, changes in the skin, spleen enlargement or liver enlargement, whites of the eyes turning yellowish and swelling and tenderness of the abdomen.

Tests

  • Blood tests are taken to rule out other conditions such as viral hepatitis.
  • Blood tests are taken to check for autoantibodies, which are indicators of liver disease.

If the tests indicate higher levels of certain liver enzymes, it is a sign of autoimmune hepatitis.

  • Imaging tests are done for your abdomen and liver. Ultrasounds also show whether the liver is enlarged and has an abnormal shape or structure.

Doctors will ask you to take a computed tomography or CT scan that uses computer technology and x- rays to create images. CT scan shows signs of damage to the liver.

MRI scans use radio waves to produce detailed images of organs to detect damage in the liver. These scans can show the liver’s shape and size and detect an abnormality. 

  • A liver biopsy is done where a piece of the tissue is taken from the liver. These tissues are examined to check for any damage to the liver.

Treatment for autoimmune hepatitis  

While inactive and mild cases do not need treatment, severe cases require treatment.

  • For many people, lifelong medication is required to manage the condition. Lifelong medicines are to keep the body’s immune response in control and maintain liver health.
  • The medications given are prednisone and azathioprine.
  • A liver transplant surgery is done if medications do not work. It is advised that a hepatologist supervise your treatment and surgery, a physician specialising in liver health.

A healthy/low-fat diet and regular exercise help in managing this condition. It is also crucial to limit alcohol intake. Visit your nearest today to take a simple liver test to keep tabs on the health of your liver. As most liver conditions do not have obvious symptoms, getting tested is the only way to diagnose a liver disease early.