Autoimmune hepatitis (AIH) is a condition in which a person’s immune system attacks their liver cells. This autoimmune reaction can cause inflammation, liver damage, and, in some cases, cirrhosis of the liver (scarring that cannot be healed). The cause of this chronic disease is unknown, but AIH occurs most often in people who have other autoimmune disorders.
Symptoms of autoimmune hepatitis include:
Note that some people have very few or very mild symptoms, while others may have severe and varied symptoms.
There are two types of AIH: Type 1 is more common and can affect people of all ages, whereas Type 2 autoimmune hepatitis primarily affects children and adolescents. AIH can affect people of all ages and races, although it tends to affect women more commonly than men.
Autoimmune hepatitis usually occurs in people who already have other autoimmune conditions, such as celiac disease. According to the Autoimmune Hepatitis Association, “50% of AIH patients have a first-degree relative with an autoimmune disease.”
Studies have found that the prevalence of celiac disease in those with AIH is higher than in the general population, with numbers varying from 6.4% to 3.5% in those with AIH compared to around 1% in the general population. Because of this, some researchers suggest screening all AIH patients for celiac disease.
If you have autoimmune hepatitis and haven’t been screened for celiac disease, talk to your doctor about getting tested.
AIH can usually be controlled with prednisone and immunosuppressants, and most patients who respond to these drugs achieve remission and have excellent survival rates. However, continued treatment is often necessary to stay in remission as AIH is a chronic condition.
If the disease is caught late or is particularly aggressive, a liver transplant may be recommended.
If you have celiac disease and autoimmune hepatitis, staying gluten-free is an important part of staying healthy. Adopting a strict gluten-free diet may even assist in encouraging the remission of AIH and improve your survival rate.