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Autoimmune Hepatitis

Contact the UPMC Center for Liver Diseases

To make an appointment with a hepatologist at the UPMC Center for Liver Diseases, call 412-647-1170 or fill out our contact form.


What Is Autoimmune Hepatitis?

Autoimmune hepatitis (AIH) is a type of liver inflammation. It occurs when your body's own immune system attacks the liver, causing swelling and damage.

Researchers can't say for sure how many people have AIH. But it's more common in girls and women.

People who have AIH sometimes have other autoimmune diseases too, such as scleroderma or type 1 diabetes.

Types of autoimmune hepatitis

There are two types of AIH:

  • Type 1, or classic: The most common form of AIH, affecting people of any age or gender.
  • Type 2: The rarer form of AIH, mostly affecting children (commonly girls).

Autoimmune hepatitis causes

Doctors don't always know why AIH starts.

Sometimes, parents pass genes with mutations, or changes, to their children. Researchers suspect that some environmental factors might cause the immune system to attack the liver in people with these gene changes.

Some infections or medicines might trigger AIH.

Viruses might also play a role.

Autoimmune hepatitis risk factors and complications

Your liver helps you digest food and removes harmful toxins from your blood. AIH damages your liver and changes how it works.

If you or a family member have an autoimmune disease, you might be at higher risk for AIH.

If you have AIH, you're at higher risk for health problems like:

Why Choose the Center for Liver Disease for Autoimmune Hepatitis Care?

Our liver doctors, or hepatologists, are experts in treating complex liver diseases. We're always researching new treatments and therapies for people with autoimmune AIH.

Our doctors work with you to design a treatment plan to help keep you healthy.

Autoimmune Hepatitis (AIH) Symptoms and Diagnosis

Not everyone who has AIH has symptoms. You might not know you have the disease until liver damage gets worse.

If you do have AIH symptoms, they may include:

  • Pain in your joints.
  • Fatigue, or feeling extremely tired.
  • Jaundice (yellow skin and eyes).
  • Pain in your stomach.
  • A decrease in appetite.
  • Dark urine.
  • Light-colored stools.
  • Skin changes, such as acne or a rash.

Diagnosing autoimmune hepatitis

Doctors often find AIH when testing blood for other conditions they think a person might have.

If doctors suspect AIH, they might take a small liver tissue sample, or liver biopsy, and view it under a microscope.

Learn more about diagnostic testing at the Center for Liver Diseases.

Autoimmune Hepatitis Treatment (AIH)

If you have AIH, our experts will create a treatment plan to help keep your liver healthy.

Your AIH might go into remission while you're in treatment. If you're in remission, blood tests will show improved liver function.

The goals of treating AIH are to reduce liver inflammation and prevent liver damage.

Your doctor will check your liver's function several times each year by physical exam and blood tests. Your doctor might do a liver biopsy every couple of years.

Lifestyle changes to treat autoimmune hepatitis

If you have AIH, it's crucial to take good care of your health.

Your doctor will urge you to:

  • Exercise.
  • Eat a healthy diet.
  • Avoid alcohol.

Medicine to treat autoimmune hepatitis

Your doctor might prescribe medicine to lower your body's immune response and reduce inflammation.

These drugs include:

  • Azathioprine, a drug that helps reduce the body's immune response.
  • Corticosteroids, such as prednisone, to help reduce inflammation in the body.

Surgery to treat autoimmune hepatitis

Sometimes, AIH progresses to liver failure, or end-stage liver disease.

Treatment for liver failure is transplant surgery to replace your diseased liver with a healthy donated liver.

Learn more about liver transplant and living donor transplant.