What is autoimmune hepatitis?

Autoimmune hepatitis is a rare but serious disease of the liver. Autoimmune means that the body attacks itself; in this case, it mistakes healthy tissue and cells for infected tissue and cells and sends out antibodies (which usually rid the body of infections) to attack the healthy liver cells.

Hepatitis occurs when the healthy tissue of the liver become inflamed. If not treated, the problem may advance to cirrhosis (scarring) of the liver, and ultimately to liver failure. If the liver becomes severely damaged, a liver transplant may be necessary.

Autoimmune hepatitis is categorized as Type 1 or Type 2:

  • Type 1 is diagnosed in adolescents or adults. This type is more common and is usually found in North America.
  • Type 2 is diagnosed mostly in children and can be more difficult to treat.

What causes autoimmune hepatitis?

Autoimmune hepatitis may appear suddenly or develop slowly over time. The cause of the disease is not known, but in some cases may be related to other systemic (throughout the body) diseases or exposure to certain medications. Autoimmune hepatitis can also be inherited from a parent or a grandparent who also has the disease.

What are the symptoms of autoimmune hepatitis?

The disease affects each patient differently. Some patients do not have any symptoms, while others may have such symptoms as:

  • Tiredness/low energy
  • Nausea
  • Itchy skin or rash
  • Yellow-colored skin or whites of the eyes (jaundice)

As scarring in the liver continues and liver function gets worse, the patient may notice:

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 06/21/2018.


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