All about auto-immune hepatitis

Auto-immune hepatitis is a disease in which the body's own immune system attacks liver cells. This causes the liver to become severely inflamed (hepatitis), as in the case of Dr Manto Tshabalala-Msimang.

Researchers think a genetic factor may predispose some people to auto-immune diseases. About 70% of those with auto-immune hepatitis are women, most between the ages of 15 and 40.

The disease is usually quite serious and, if not treated, gets worse over time. It's usually chronic, meaning it can last for years, and can lead to cirrhosis (scarring and hardening) of the liver and eventually liver failure.

Auto-immune hepatitis is classified as either type I or II. About half of those with type I have other auto-immune disorders, such as type 1 diabetes, proliferative glomerulonephritis, thyroiditis, Graves' disease, Sjögren's syndrome, auto-immune anaemia, and ulcerative colitis. Type II auto-immune hepatitis is less common, typically affecting girls aged two to 14, although adults can have it too.

Fatigue is probably the most common symptom of auto-immune hepatitis. Other symptoms include:

  • an enlarged liver with subsequent abdominal discomfort
  • nausea and vomiting
  • jaundice
  • itching
  • and skin rashes.
  • People in advanced stages of the disease are more likely to have symptoms such as fluid in the abdomen (ascites) or mental confusion. Women may stop having menstrual periods. Symptoms of auto-immune hepatitis range from mild to severe.

    A diagnosis in confirmed by means of a liver biopsy.

    Treatment works best when auto-immune hepatitis is diagnosed early. With proper treatment, auto-immune hepatitis can usually be controlled. In fact, recent studies show that sustained response to treatment not only stops the disease from getting worse, but also may actually reverse some of the damage. The primary treatment is medicine to suppress (slow down) an overactive immune system.

    In about seven out of 10 people, the disease goes into remission, with a lessening of severity of symptoms, within two years of starting treatment. A portion of persons with a remission will see the disease return within three years, so treatment may be necessary on and off for years, if not for life.

    March 2007

    Source: www.nih.gov

    We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
    In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For 14 free days, you can have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today. Thereafter you will be billed R75 per month. You can cancel anytime and if you cancel within 14 days you won't be billed. 
    Subscribe to News24
    Voting Booth
    Gauteng DA leader Solly Msimanga says the party's voters want it to explore conditional coalition talks with the ANC. 
    Please select an option Oops! Something went wrong, please try again later.
    Results
    It's a step in the right direction. An ANC-DA coalition would be the most stable option for SA
    33% - 2812 votes
    The DA should focus on working with all opposition parties, including the EFF, to unseat the ANC
    15% - 1254 votes
    The DA should rather remain in opposition than form a coalition with the ANC or the EFF
    52% - 4454 votes
    Vote
    Rand - Dollar
    17.09
    -0.4%
    Rand - Pound
    20.66
    +0.0%
    Rand - Euro
    17.80
    -0.1%
    Rand - Aus dollar
    11.54
    +0.0%
    Rand - Yen
    0.12
    -0.0%
    Gold
    1,754.60
    0.0%
    Silver
    21.61
    0.0%
    Palladium
    1,856.61
    0.0%
    Platinum
    984.00
    0.0%
    Brent Crude
    83.63
    -2.0%
    Top 40
    66,754
    -0.0%
    All Share
    73,151
    +0.0%
    Resource 10
    71,441
    -0.1%
    Industrial 25
    87,347
    -0.2%
    Financial 15
    16,370
    +0.4%
    All JSE data delayed by at least 15 minutes Iress logo
    Editorial feedback and complaints

    Contact the public editor with feedback for our journalists, complaints, queries or suggestions about articles on News24.

    LEARN MORE