Autoimmune liver disease

Autoimmune Liver Disease

Overview

Auto-immune hepatitis occurs when the body’s immune system attacks the liver cells, causing inflammation and scarring in the liver. The exact cause of autoimmune hepatitis is unknown, but the reasons appear to be influenced by genetic and environmental factors. If drug therapies are ineffective, or in case of severe liver damage, the patient may require a liver transplant.

Signs and symptoms

The signs and symptoms of autoimmune hepatitis vary from patient to patient. Patients usually experience a combination of increasing fatigue, nausea, abdominal discomfort, jaundice progressing over many years to cirrhosis. Occasionally, it may present very rapidly over a few weeks with jaundice, bleeding tendency and even coma.

Causes and risk factors

Auto-immune hepatitis is caused by the body’s immune system attacking the liver cells. This immune response could cause inflammation, which over time would lead to scarring and cirrhosis. Women have a higher risk of autoimmune hepatitis. People with a personal or family history of other auto-immune conditions have higher chances of developing auto-immune hepatitis.

Complications

Auto-immune hepatitis could cause oesophageal varices, ascites or fluid in the belly, liver cancer or liver failure.

Diagnosis

Auto-immune hepatitis could be easily confused with other liver diseases. Blood tests would be required to rule out viral hepatitis and check for immunoglobulin antibody levels. Occasionally a liver biopsy may be necessary to confirm the diagnosis.

Treatment and Surgical Interventions

Auto-immune hepatitis can be slowed down and even reversed with appropriate drug therapies. The patient may be prescribed immunosuppressants and corticosteroids. In case of severe liver damage or cirrhosis, a liver transplant can prove effective. However, in some cases, the patient rejects the liver, or the body’s immune response damages the donor liver as well.

Prevention

There is no proven way to avoid autoimmune hepatitis. However, regular checkups may detect it at an early stage.

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