Autoimmune hepatitis (AIH)

Autoimmune liver disease, chronic inflammatory liver disease

Autoimmune hepatitis is when the immune system attacks the liver cells causing inflammation, cirrhosis and liver damage

What is autoimmune hepatitis (AIH)?

Autoimmune hepatitis (AIH) is an uncommon but serious chronic condition where your body's immune system attacks the liver cells, causing inflammation of the liver. If left untreated, it can lead to fibrosis, cirrhosis and, eventually, liver failure and liver cancer. If you are concerned you may have AIH, we can help test for, diagnose and manage it.

Need to know

  • What are the symptoms of autoimmune hepatitis (AIH)? icon plus

    It's common to have no symptoms at the early stage. When they occur, symptoms are often non-specific, so your consultant may not immediately attribute them to liver disease. The most common symptoms are:

    • fatigue
    • joint or muscle pain
    • low appetite
    • nausea
    • itching (pruritus)
    • skin rash
    • stomach pain or bloating
    • diarrhoea
    • excessive hair growth (usually in women)
    • absent periods or menstruation cycle (amenorrhoea)

    More severe symptoms may include:

    • build-up of fluid in the legs, feet and ankles (oedema) or the abdomen (ascites)
    • confusion (hepatic encephalopathy)
    • jaundice
    • bruising
    • abnormal blood vessels on the skin
    • dark urine
    • pale, fatty floating stools
  • How is AIH diagnosed? icon plus

    Your consultant will discuss your symptoms with you and may recommend tests to aid diagnosis. Diagnosis is made through a combination of an assessment of your medical history, a physical examination, and certain diagnostic tests, which may include:

    • Blood tests to quantify immunoglobulins (proteins produced by your immune cells) and autoantibodies (proteins which are markers of this condition).
    • Liver function tests (LFT). Blood tests that quantify alanine aminotransferase (ALT) and aspartate aminotransferase (AST), indicators of liver inflammation.
    • A liver biopsy may be required, where a tiny piece of your liver is taken to determine the cause of the liver disease.
    • Transient elastography which scans for liver fibrosis (scarring) levels.
  • Potential treatment options icon plus

    Once you have been diagnosed with AIH, treatment is almost always needed. The type of treatment used is immunosuppression, which reduces how active your immune system is, in order to control the severity of liver inflammation.

    Reducing liver inflammation can improve your symptoms, reduce cirrhosis and help prevent liver failure over the longer term.

    Immunosuppression can be achieved by using a combination of medications. Your consultant will discuss your treatment options and help to determine the best approach for you.

    Treatment for AIH typically includes the use of corticosteroids, mainly prednisolone, and the immunosuppressant azathioprine.

Our liver specialists

We have hepatologists and hepatic surgeons who specialise in diagnosing and treating a wide range of disorders of the liver. Each consultant will talk you through the options available for your condition.

Our locations

From complex liver surgery to diagnostic tests and procedures, we provide exceptional hepatobiliary care across our network of hospitals, outpatient centres and specialist clinics.

Request an appointment

Our team can help with any enquiries or you make an appointment with one of our experienced consultants.

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020 7079 4344
This content is intended for general information only and does not replace the need for personal advice from a qualified health professional.
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