Hepatitis means liver inflammation, and it has common causes, such as viruses and alcoholism. But, we will discuss an exception of hepatitis in which your body attacks your liver cells. We will discuss autoimmune hepatitis.
Autoimmune hepatitis is a chronic autoimmune disease in which your immune system recognizes your liver cells as foreign bodies and attacks them, which causes liver inflammation (hepatitis). If untreated, it may end with liver scarring (cirrhosis) and liver cell failure.
It’s a lifelong liver condition, and you should monitor it for life to keep it under control.
As with most autoimmune diseases, autoimmune hepatitis affects women more than men; more than 70% of patients are women. It is a rare disease and affects about 11 to 17 people per 100,000 in Europe. About 10,000 people are living with it in Europe. It affects any age, but it has two age peaks, one at 10 – 20 years and another around 45 years. It also affects any ethnic group. In 30% to 50% of patients, autoimmune hepatitis doesn’t occur alone. The patient usually suffers from other autoimmune diseases, such as thyrotoxicosis, rheumatoid arthritis, ulcerative colitis, and type I diabetes.
Autoimmune hepatitis develops gradually over time. Its presentation varies from mild to severe and depends on the amount of liver damage. At first, you may have no symptoms or some nonspecific symptoms. But as the disease progresses, more liver damage occurs, and more symptoms appear.
There is no specific cause for autoimmune hepatitis, but some risk factors may trigger and predispose it.
Autoimmune hepatitis shows symptoms similar to viral hepatitis. Thus, proper diagnosis needs to rule out other similar conditions. The diagnosis should determine the type and severity of autoimmune hepatitis to start an effective management plan.
There is no cure for autoimmune hepatitis, but the treatment can manage the symptoms, slow or stop the progression. The treatment will aim to suppress your overactive immune system that attacks your liver. Your doctor will choose the suitable immunosuppressor drug for your case.
According to your response to these drugs, your doctor will decide if you need liver transplantation.
Now, let’s start the story of autoimmune hepatitis in detail, and we will discuss:
- What are the causes or risk factors for this disease?
- What are its symptoms, signs, and complications?
- Are there different types of autoimmune hepatitis, and what are they?
- When should you seek medical care, and which physician should I see?
- How can the doctor diagnose if I have this disease?
- What are the available treatment options that your doctor will discuss with you?
Causes and risk factors of autoimmune hepatitis
Till now, scientists couldn’t detect any clear underlying cause for autoimmune hepatitis. They think that this condition is due to a combination of genetic predisposition and environmental triggers. They identified the following risk factors:
- Positive family history: Autoimmune hepatitis runs in families.
- Female gender: Women are at higher risk than men to have autoimmune hepatitis and most autoimmune diseases.
- History of some infections: Some viral infections may trigger this disease, such as measles, herpes, Epstein-Barr virus, and hepatitis viruses (A, B, and C).
- Medications: such as statins, hydralazine, and antibiotics (like nitrofurantoin and minocycline).
- Having another autoimmune disease: Once you have an autoimmune disease, you may develop another one. If you have an autoimmune disease (such as rheumatoid arthritis or hyperthyroidism), you will be at a higher risk of autoimmune hepatitis.