Definition & Facts for Autoimmune Hepatitis

What is autoimmune hepatitis?

Autoimmune hepatitis is a chronic disease in which your body’s immune system attacks the liver and causes inflammation and liver damage. Without treatment, autoimmune hepatitis may get worse and lead to complications, such as cirrhosis and liver failure.

Autoimmune hepatitis is an autoimmune disease. Your immune system normally makes large numbers of antibodies and lymphocytes that help fight off infections. The normal immune system does not attack healthy cells in a person’s body. In autoimmune diseases, your immune system makes certain types of antibodies—called autoantibodies—and lymphocytes that attack your body’s own cells and organs.

What are the types of autoimmune hepatitis?

Experts have identified two types of autoimmune hepatitis: type 1 and type 2. The immune system makes different autoantibodies in each type. Type 1 autoimmune hepatitis is much more common than type 2, which mainly affects children.

How common is autoimmune hepatitis?

Researchers aren’t sure how common autoimmune hepatitis is in the United States. Studies conducted in northern European countries have found that between 10 and 24 of every 100,000 people in that region have autoimmune hepatitis. Researchers have found that the disease is more common among Alaska Natives, affecting about 43 of every 100,000 people.1

Who is more likely to have autoimmune hepatitis?

Autoimmune hepatitis can occur at any age and affects people of all racial and ethnic groups. The disease is more common in girls and women than in boys and men.

Type 1 autoimmune hepatitis occurs in people of all ages, while type 2 more often affects children.

What other conditions do people with autoimmune hepatitis have?

Some people who have autoimmune hepatitis may also have features of liver diseases that affect their bile ducts—the tubes that carry bile out of the liver—such as

People with autoimmune hepatitis are at risk for having other autoimmune diseases. Examples include

What are the complications of autoimmune hepatitis?

Autoimmune hepatitis may lead to complications, but early diagnosis and treatment can lower your chances of developing them.

Doctor talking with a patient.
Early diagnosis and treatment can lower your chances of developing complications.

Acute liver failure

Very rarely, autoimmune hepatitis can cause acute liver failure, a condition in which your liver fails rapidly without warning.

Cirrhosis

In cirrhosis, scar tissue replaces healthy liver tissue and prevents your liver from working normally. Scar tissue also partly blocks the flow of blood through the liver. As cirrhosis gets worse, the liver begins to fail.

Liver failure

Cirrhosis may eventually lead to liver failure. With liver failure, your liver is badly damaged and stops working. Liver failure is also called end-stage liver disease. This may require a liver transplant.

Liver cancer

Cirrhosis increases your chance of getting liver cancer. Your doctor may suggest an ultrasound or another type of imaging test to check for liver cancer. Finding cancer at an early stage improves the chance of curing the cancer.

References

May 2018
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This content is provided as a service of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), part of the National Institutes of Health. The NIDDK translates and disseminates research findings through its clearinghouses and education programs to increase knowledge and understanding about health and disease among patients, health professionals, and the public. Content produced by the NIDDK is carefully reviewed by NIDDK scientists and other experts.