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autoimmune hepatitis

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Biliary System

Autoimmune hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver caused by an autoimmune disorder. An autoimmune disorder is one in which a person's immune system attacks his or her own body for unknown reasons.

What is going on in the body? 
The exact reason for autoimmune disorders is not known. In autoimmune hepatitis, the immune system attacks the liver and, sometimes, other parts of the body. The degree of liver inflammation can range from mild to deadly.

What are the signs and symptoms of the condition? 
Autoimmune hepatitis can cause many symptoms, including: On examination, the liver may be enlarged and tender to the touch.

What are the causes and risks of the condition? 
The cause of autoimmune hepatitis is unknown. It may be an isolated condition or occur as part of another autoimmune condition.

What can be done to prevent the condition? 
Generally, nothing can be done to prevent autoimmune hepatitis.

How is the condition diagnosed? 
Hepatitis can be diagnosed with blood tests, such as liver function tests. The doctor must then try to figure out the cause of the hepatitis. Conditions such as alcoholism and viral infection of the liver are much more common than autoimmune hepatitis. Further blood tests often help make the correct diagnosis. Special x-ray tests may be needed as well. Sometimes, a liver biopsy may be needed. This procedure involves getting a piece of liver tissue with a special needle inserted through the skin. The piece can then be examined under a microscope.

What are the long-term effects of the condition? 
Severe liver damage can result from autoimmune hepatitis. This may cause permanent scarring and malfunctioning of the liver, and even death.

What are the risks to others? 
There are no risks to others, as autoimmune hepatitis is not contagious.

What are the treatments for the condition? 
The main treatment for autoimmune hepatitis is the use of medications that stop the immune system from attacking the liver. A liver transplant may be needed if medications don't work or the liver becomes very damaged.

What are the side effects of the treatments? 
Medications to suppress or stop the immune system can cause allergic reactions, stomach upset, and an increased risk of infection. liver transplant is major surgery that carries a risk of bleeding, infection, and allergic reaction to the anaesthesia.

What happens after treatment for the condition? 
The outcome for autoimmune hepatitis is often unpredictable. A person may require lifelong therapy or the condition may go away on its own for long stretches of time. A Liver transplant generally cures the condition, but requires intense treatment and monitoring for years after the transplant.

How is the condition monitored? 
Regular physical examinations and liver function blood tests are commonly used to monitor autoimmune hepatitis. Any new or worsening symptoms should be reported to the doctor.

Author: Adam Brochert, MD
Reviewer: eknowhow Medical Review Panel
Editor: Dr John Hearne
Last Updated: 25/04/2005
Potential conflict of interest information for reviewers available on request

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