Autoimmune hepatitis is inflammation in your liver that occurs when your body's immune system attacks your liver. Although the cause of autoimmune hepatitis isn't entirely clear, some diseases, toxins and drugs may trigger autoimmune hepatitis in susceptible people, especially women.
Untreated autoimmune hepatitis can lead to scarring of the liver (cirrhosis) and eventually to liver failure. When diagnosed and treated early, however, autoimmune hepatitis often can be controlled with drugs that suppress the immune system.
A liver transplant may be an option when autoimmune hepatitis doesn't respond to drug treatments or when liver disease is advanced.
The liver is your largest internal organ. About the size of a football, it's located mainly in the upper right portion of your abdomen, beneath the diaphragm and above your stomach. ...
Signs and symptoms of autoimmune hepatitis can range from minor to severe and may come on suddenly or develop over time. Some people have few, if any, recognized problems in the early stages of the disease, whereas others experience signs and symptoms that may include:
When to see a doctor
Autoimmune hepatitis occurs when the body's immune system, which ordinarily attacks viruses, bacteria and other pathogens, instead targets the liver. This attack on your liver can lead to chronic inflammation and serious damage to liver cells. Just why the body turns against itself is unclear, but researchers think autoimmune hepatitis could be caused by an interaction between several risk factors, such as infections, medications and a genetic predisposition.
Types of autoimmune hepatitis
Factors that may increase your risk of autoimmune hepatitis include:
Autoimmune hepatitis may be associated with a variety of other autoimmune diseases, including:
Complications of liver damage
Esophageal varices are enlarged veins in the lower esophagus. They're often due to obstructed blood flow through the portal vein, which carries blood from the intestine, pancreas and spleen to the ...
Preparing for your appointment
If you have any signs or symptoms that worry you, start by making an appointment with your primary care doctor. If your doctor suspects you may have a liver problem, such as autoimmune hepatitis, you may be referred to a specialist in liver diseases (hepatologist).
Because appointments can be brief, and because there's often a lot of ground to cover, it's a good idea to be prepared for your appointment. Here's some information to help you get ready, and what to expect from your doctor.
What you can do
Your time with your doctor is limited, so preparing a list of questions will help you make the most of your appointment. For autoimmune hepatitis, some basic questions to ask your doctor include:
What to expect from your doctor
Tests and diagnosis
Tests and procedures used to diagnose autoimmune hepatitis include:
A liver biopsy is a procedure to remove a small sample of liver tissue for laboratory testing. A liver biopsy is commonly performed by inserting a thin needle through your skin and into your liver....
Treatments and drugs
Whatever type of autoimmune hepatitis you have, the goal of treatment is to slow or stop your body's immune system from attacking your liver. This may help slow the progression of the disease.
Medications to control your immune system (immunosuppressants)
During a liver transplant, your diseased liver is removed and replaced by a healthy liver from a donor. Liver transplants most often use livers from deceased organ donors. In some cases, a living-donor liver transplant can be used. During a living-donor liver transplant, you receive only a portion of a healthy liver from a living donor. Both livers begin regenerating new cells almost immediately.
Living liver transplant
A small percentage of liver donations come from a living donor, such as a friend or family member. During a living-donor liver transplant, one portion of the donor's liver is removed and transplanted ...
Coping and support
Living with a chronic liver disease can be frustrating. Each person finds ways to cope with the stress of a chronic disease. In time, you'll find what works for you. Until then, consider trying to:
Last Updated: 2012-04-18
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