Autoimmune liver disease, or autoimmune hepatitis, is a condition in which the patient’s immune system attacks liver and bile duct cells, resulting in liver failure, cirrhosis, or liver cancer. The disease usually begins in childhood but can start at any time, and is much more common in females than males (70 vs. 30 percent).
There are several types of autoimmune hepatitis, each with its own indicators and prognoses:
- Type 0 autoimmune hepatitis
- Type 1 autoimmune hepatitis
- Type 2 autoimmune hepatitis
- Autoimmune cholangitis
- Overlap autoimmune hepatitis
- Primary biliary cirrhosis (PBC), destruction of small bile ducts by the immune system
- Primary sclerosing cholangitis (PSC), destruction of intermediate and large bile ducts by the immune system
Symptoms of Autoimmune Liver Disease
In its early stages, the disease may cause few recognizable symptoms. The patient may experience an unexplained rash or joint pain, along with abdominal discomfort. Other symptoms may include dark urine, light or gray-colored stool, vomiting, and loss of appetite.
As the disease progresses, the patient may start noticing yellowing in the skin or eyes (jaundice), more severe joint pain, spider veins (particularly on the face), more severe vomiting, and weight loss. As the liver becomes debilitated, symptoms of cirrhosis begin to appear.
Diagnosing Autoimmune Liver Disease
A series of blood tests is necessary to identify the antibodies that indicate the presence and type of autoimmune liver disease. A liver biopsy may also be needed to rule out certain other conditions.
Treating Autoimmune Liver Disease
Patients diagnosed with autoimmune liver disease are typically treated with drugs, including immunosuppressants (to decrease immune system activity) and steroids (to reduce swelling). In many cases, the disease goes into remission within 3 years.
To find out more about the Methodist Center for Liver Disease and Transplantation, call us at 866-94-LIVER (866-945-4837) or send us an email.