Autoimmune Hepatitis

What is Autoimmune Hepatitis

Autoimmune hepatitis is a disease in which body’s disease-fighting system (immune system) attacks the liver and causes it to become inflamed. Without treatment, this condition gets worse.

It can last for years and lead to scarring of the liver (cirrhosis) and liver failure. It also increases a person’s risk for liver cancer.

What are the causes?

The cause of this condition is not known. Genetic factors, the environment, and previous infections may play a role.

What increases the risk?

This condition is more likely to develop in:

  • Females.
  • People who are 15–40 years of age.

What are the signs or symptoms?

Symptoms of this condition include:

  • Fatigue (common).
  • A yellowish color to the skin, the whites of the eyes, and mucous membranes (jaundice).
  • Itching.
  • Rash.
  • Joint pain.
  • Discomfort in the abdomen.
  • Nausea.
  • Loss of appetite.

People who have advanced disease are more likely to have symptoms such as:

  • Fluid in the abdomen (ascites).
  • Confusion.
  • A stop in menstrual periods in women.

How is this diagnosed?

This condition is diagnosed with:

  • Blood tests.
  • A liver biopsy. In this test, a sample of liver tissue is removed from the body with a needle and examined under a microscope.

How is this treated?

This condition is treated with medicines that slow down the immune system. These medicines may need to be taken for life. In severe cases, this condition may be treated with a liver transplant.

Usually, the earlier a person gets treatment for this condition, the better the results will be. Most people stop having symptoms with treatment.

Follow these instructions at home:

  • Do notdrink alcohol. It may cause further damage to your liver.
  • Take over-the-counter and prescription medicines only as told by your health care provider.
  • Keep all follow-up visits as told by your health care provider. This is important.

Contact a health care provider if:

  • You have a fever.
  • You have new symptoms.
  • Your symptoms get worse.
  • You have increasing fatigue or weakness.
  • You develop jaundice, or your jaundice gets worse.

Get help right away if:

  • You are unable to eat or drink.
  • You feel nauseous or you vomit.
  • You feel confused.
  • You develop a rash.
  • Your skin, throat, mouth, or face becomes swollen.
  • You have a seizure.
  • You become very sleepy or you have trouble waking up.
  • You bruise or bleed easily.
  • You develop pain in your abdomen.
  • You feel dizzy.
  • You have difficulty walking.

Autoimmune Hepatitis, Pediatric

Autoimmune hepatitis is a condition in which the body’s disease-fighting system (immune system) attacks the liver and causes it to become inflamed. If this condition is not treated, it can get worse. It can last for years and lead to scarring of the liver (cirrhosis) and liver failure. It also increases the risk of liver cancer.

What are the causes?

The cause of this condition is not known.

What increases the risk?

Your child is more likely to develop this condition if he or she:

  • Is a girl.
  • Carries certain traits that are passed along from a parent (genetic factors).
  • Has been exposed to germs or harmful substances at home or at school (environmental factors).
  • Has had previous infections.
  • Has had other autoimmune diseases.

What are the signs or symptoms?

Symptoms of this condition include:

  • Fatigue. This is the most common symptom.
  • A yellowish color to the skin, the white parts of the eyes, and mucous membranes (jaundice).
  • Liver that is larger than normal.
  • Skin rash.
  • Itchiness.
  • Joint pain.
  • Abdomen (abdominal) discomfort.
  • Nausea and vomiting.
  • Loss of appetite.
  • Dark urine.
  • Pale or gray-colored stools.

If your child’s hepatitis is advanced, he or she is more likely to have symptoms such as:

  • Fluid in the abdomen (ascites).
  • Confusion.
  • A stop in menstrual periods in girls.

How is this diagnosed?

This condition is diagnosed based on:

  • A physical exam and medical history.
  • Blood tests.
  • Removing a small sample of liver tissue and testing it in a lab (liver biopsy).

How is this treated?

Treatment for this condition includes:

  • Medicines that slow down the immune system. Your child may need to take these medicines for his or her whole life. They may include:
    • Steroids.
    • Immunosuppressants. These are medicines that make the immune system weaker.
  • Surgery to replace your child’s liver with a donated liver (liver transplant). This is usually done in severe cases.

Follow these instructions at home:

Eating and drinking

  • Give your child a healthy, balanced diet.
  • Limit foods that are high in fat, sugar, and salt (sodium). Do notadd extra salt to your child’s food.
  • Avoid dehydration by giving your child enough fluid to keep his or her urine pale yellow. Limit your child’s fluid intake only if your health care provider tells you to do so.
  • Maintain clean spaces for meal preparation and eating. Wash your hands before and after preparing meals. Have your child wash his or her hands before eating.
  • If your child is underweight:
    • Try giving him or her frequent small meals instead of three full-sized meals each day.
    • Give him or her a high-calorie diet, if recommended by the health care provider or a diet and nutrition specialist (dietitian).
    • Adjust the amount of certain foods and substances as recommended by the health care provider or dietitian.

General instructions

  • Give your child over-the-counter and prescription medicines only as told by his or her health care provider.
  • Keep all follow-up visits as told by your child’s health care provider. This is important.

Contact a health care provider if:

  • Your child’s symptoms get worse, and medicines do not help.
  • Your child has:
    • A fever.
    • New symptoms.
    • More fatigue or weakness.
    • Jaundice, or her or his jaundice gets worse.

Get help right away if:

  • Your child cannot eat or drink.
  • Your child has:
    • Nausea and vomiting.
    • A seizure.
    • Abdominal pain.
    • Trouble walking.
  • Your child feels:
    • Confused.
    • Dizzy.
  • Your child develops a rash.
  • Your child’s skin, throat, mouth, or face becomes swollen.
  • Your child becomes very sleepy or has trouble waking up.
  • Your child bruises or bleeds easily.

Summary

  • Autoimmune hepatitis is a condition in which your child’s disease-fighting system (immune system) attacks the liver and causes it to become inflamed.
  • This condition is more common among girls.
  • The most common symptom of autoimmune hepatitis is fatigue.
  • Treatment usually includes medicines that slow down the immune system.
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