Conditions & Treatments

Autoimmune Hepatitis

Hepatitis is the inflammation of the liver, resulting in liver cell damage and destruction. In autoimmune hepatitis, the body's own immune system destroys liver cells.

Autoimmune Hepatitis

What is autoimmune hepatitis?

Hepatitis is the inflammation of the liver, resulting in liver cell damage and destruction. In autoimmune hepatitis, the body's own immune system destroys the cells of the liver. It is a chronic inflammatory liver disease with no known cause. It is associated with a disorder called hypergammaglobulinemia. Hypergammaglobulinemia is a disorder where there are too many circulating protein antibodies in the blood. A chronic infection or certain malignant blood diseases may cause hypergammaglobulinemia. Autoimmune hepatitis may resolve without treatment in some people, but, for the majority, it is chronic and can lead to cirrhosis and liver failure.

Autoimmune hepatitis may be classified as type 1 or type 2. Type 1 (classic) is the most common form. It may occur at any age but usually affects young women more than men. Also, other autoimmune disorders can be associated with type 1 such as thyroiditis, Grave's disease, and ulcerative colitis. Type 2 generally affects girls between ages two and 14, but does occur in adults.

What are the symptoms of autoimmune hepatitis?

The following are the most common symptoms of autoimmune hepatitis. However, each individual may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:

  • Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes)

  • Fatigue

  • Abdominal pain

  • Severe acne

  • Joint pain

  • Joint swelling

  • Cessation of menses

  • Chest pain

  • Diarrhea

  • Fever

  • Large abdomen due to large liver and spleen

  • Spider-like blood vessels in the skin

  • Dark urine

  • Pale or gray-colored stools

  • Ascites (fluid buildup in the abdominal cavity)

The symptoms of autoimmune hepatitis may resemble other medical conditions or problems. Always consult your doctor for a diagnosis.

How is autoimmune hepatitis diagnosed?

In addition to complete medical history and physical examination, diagnostic procedures for autoimmune hepatitis may include the following:

  • Specific laboratory blood tests, such as the following:

    • Liver function studies

    • Blood cell counts

    • Bleeding times

    • Electrolyte tests

    • Tests for other chemicals in the body

    • Autoimmune antibodies

  • Computed tomography (CT) scan. This diagnostic imaging procedure uses a combination of X-rays and computer technology to produce horizontal, or axial, images (often called slices) of the body. A CT scan shows detailed images of any part of the body, including the bones, muscles, fat, and organs. CT scans are more detailed than general X-rays.

  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). MRI is a diagnostic procedure that uses a combination of large magnets, radio frequencies, and a computer to produce detailed images of organs and structures within the body. The patient lies on a bed that moves into the cylindrical MRI machine. The machine takes a series of pictures of the inside of the body using a magnetic field and radio waves. The computer enhances the pictures produced. The test is painless, and doesn't involve exposure to radiation. Because the MRI machine is like a tunnel, some people are claustrophobic or unable to hold still during the test, and may be given a sedative to help them relax. Metal objects can't be present in the MRI room, so people with pacemakers or metal clips or rods inside the body can't have this test done. All jewelry must be removed before the procedure.

  • Liver biopsy. A procedure in which tissue samples from the liver are removed (with a needle or during surgery) for examination under a microscope.

What is the treatment for autoimmune hepatitis?

Specific treatment for autoimmune hepatitis will be determined by your doctor based on:

  • Your age, overall health, and medical history

  • Extent of the disease

  • Your tolerance for specific medications, procedures, or therapies

  • Expectations for the course of the disease

  • Your opinion or preference

The goal of treatment for autoimmune hepatitis is to drive the disease into remission (complete or partial absence of symptoms). This is done by taking corticosteroids and immunosuppressive medications. Remission may take six months to a year or longer to occur. If an individual develops liver failure, a liver transplant may be considered.

Treatment Programs


Massachusetts General Hospital understands that a variety of factors influence patients' health care decisions. That's just one reason why we're dedicated to ensuring patients understand their diagnosis and treatment options. Because a single option might not serve all patients, we offer a wide range of coordinated treatments and related services across the hospital. Patients should consult with their primary care doctor or other qualified health care provider for medical advice and diagnosis information.

Select a treatment program for more information:



Digestive Healthcare Center

  • Liver Center
    Massachusetts General Hospital Liver Center specialists are authorities in the diagnosis and management of all forms of acute and chronic liver disease.
Imaging

  • Pediatric Imaging
    The Pediatric Imaging Program at Massachusetts General Hospital Imaging specializes in ensuring the safety and comfort of child patients while providing the latest technology and the expertise of specialized pediatric radiologists.
  • Adult Medicine Imaging
    The Adult Medicine Imaging Program at Massachusetts General Hospital Imaging offers a wide range of diagnostic exams and minimally invasive, image-guided treatments, all provided using leading-edge equipment and interpreted by specialty-trained radiologists.
MassGeneral Hospital for Children

  • Pediatric Hepatobiliary and Pancreatic Program
    The Pediatric Hepatobiliary and Pancreatic Program at MassGeneral Hospital for Children diagnoses and treats infants, children and adolescents with diverse hepatic, biliary and pancreatic disorders.
Transplant Center

  • Liver Transplant Program
    The Massachusetts General Hospital Transplant Center has performed more adult and pediatric liver transplants than any other center in New England, and has maintained some of the best graft and patient survivals in the country.
Gastroenterology

  • Liver and Hepatitis Program
    The Liver and Hepatitis Program at Massachusetts General Hospital provides expert consultation and state-of-the-art care for patients with acute and chronic liver conditions, including curative therapies for hepatitis C virus (HCV)

The following related clinical trials and research studies are currently seeking participants at Massachusetts General Hospital. Search for clinical trials and studies in another area of interest.

Innovative care at the Digestive Healthcare Center

Learn more about the latest treatment options for this condition at the Digestive Healthcare Center