Hepatitis occurs when the liver becomes inflamed. As the liver is a vital organ and essential to survival, hepatitis can be serious in many cases. Although hepatitis can be caused by viruses or excess alcohol consumption, there are actually numerous different types of the condition.
When autoimmune hepatitis occurs, the body attacks the liver, causing damage to the organ. As the condition is chronic and long-lasting, it can have a significant effect on patients. As with other forms of hepatitis, patients may suffer from a range of symptoms.
Often, patients will complain of joint pain, high fevers, nausea, vomiting, fatigue, abdominal pain and a loss of appetite. In some cases, patients may simply feel generally unwell but be unable to identify specific symptoms.
Although scientists have identified how the disease manifests itself, the actual causes of autoimmune hepatitis are still unclear. It is generally believed that cells which circulate within the blood, known as lymphocytes, attack the hepatocytes, or liver cells.
Similar to other autoimmune conditions, the lymphocytes wrongly categorize the hepatocytes as a foreign substance and attack it accordingly. Currently, there is no firm scientific basis for why the lymphocytes make this error, however.
Before any treatment for hepatitis can commence, physicians must determine what type of condition the patient is suffering from. Once autoimmune hepatitis has been confirmed, a treatment plan can be devised.
If the condition is left untreated, it will eventually result in death. Although treatment is effective in most cases, if treatment for autoimmune hepatitis is not given, it can be one of the most severe forms of hepatitis.
Normally, patients will begin a form of immunosuppression therapy. This is designed to lower the functioning of the immune systems and, therefore, prevent it from attacking the liver cells. Often, strong corticosteroids are used to start the treatment but the dose may be reduced once the inflammation has been lowered.
If the inflammation remains controlled, a low ongoing dose of steroids will be prescribed, along with supplementary medications. Although steroids are the usual form of treatment for autoimmune hepatitis, some patients may suffer from pronounced side effects. Due to this, it may be possible for alternative medication to be prescribed, although this is fairly rare.
Most patients who are diagnosed with the condition are keen to find out what the autoimmune life expectancy is. In addition to this, many patients want to find out how autoimmune hepatitis will impact on their quality of life.
Although the condition can be managed, it is not yet curable. Ongoing treatment is required and is essential in order for the patient to survive without relapses. When it comes to autoimmune hepatitis life expectancy, it will depend on the availability of treatment and that patient's response to treatment.
However, if effective treatment is maintained, autoimmune hepatitis life expectancy may be no different to people without the condition.
In general, treatment will be most effective the earlier the condition is diagnosed. In some instances, patients with autoimmune hepatitis may have an increased risk of developing other conditions or diseases, so they should be monitored carefully.
For example, autoimmune hepatitis may result in the patient developing cirrhosis of the liver. When irreversible scarring of the organ occurs, cirrhosis is normally diagnosed. Often associated with long-term liver damage, cirrhosis may progress until liver failure is apparent.
Due to this, patients may require a liver transplant in some cases. However, not every patient with autoimmune hepatitis will develop cirrhosis or liver failure and many will not require such radical treatment.
As the first line of treatment for autoimmune hepatitis is immunosuppression, patients need to be aware of the risks this can bring. In order to prevent further damage to liver cells, the functioning of the immune system must be lowered. However, this can increase the risk of the patient contracting other illnesses.
Despite this risk, immunosuppression is still the most viable form of treatment for patients with autoimmune hepatitis. While it may be tempting to discontinue treatment once the patient enters a state of remission, this raises the possibility of a relapse occurring at some stage.
For many patients, the appropriate response to autoimmune hepatitis is on-going steroid immunosuppression treatment. When administered on a long-term basis, patients can live without symptoms and autoimmune hepatitis life expectancy remains comparable to those without the condition.