Autoimmune hepatitis is a form of liver inflammation. It occurs when the body's immune system attacks its own liver cells. Symptoms of the disease can include excessive tiredness, a lack of appetite, and jaundice. The condition is usually quite serious and can get worse over time if not treated. Although scientists do not know what causes it, they speculate that certain bacteria, viruses, toxins, and drugs may trigger the disease in people who are genetically susceptible to it.
What Is Autoimmune Hepatitis?Autoimmune hepatitis is a disease in which the body's immune system attacks liver cells. This causes the liver to become inflamed (hepatitis simply means inflammation of the liver).
The condition mostly affects women. About 70 percent of those with autoimmune hepatitis are women; most are between the ages of 15 and 40. However, it can affect people of any age (including children) or ethnicity.
Autoimmune Hepatitis and the Immune SystemOne job of the immune system is to protect the body from viruses, bacteria, and other living organisms. Usually, the immune system does not react against the body's own cells. However, sometimes it mistakenly attacks the cells it is supposed to protect. This response is called autoimmunity.
What Causes It?Similar to other autoimmune diseases, scientists still do not know the cause or causes of autoimmune hepatitis and why the immune system turns against itself.
Researchers speculate that certain bacteria, viruses, toxins, and drugs trigger an autoimmune response in people who are genetically susceptible to developing an autoimmune disorder, such as autoimmune hepatitis. Researchers are trying to understand these factors and how they work together.
(Click Causes of Autoimmune Hepatitis for more information on possible genetic or environmental causes.)