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Autoimmune Hepatitis Life Expectancy -- What Does the Research Say?

The life expectancy for autoimmune hepatitis will vary from person to person. Some people who do not have a lot of disease on liver biopsy, and who do well with medications, can expect to do well for years and years. These people can potentially have a life expectancy unaffected by their liver disease. Individuals with severe autoimmune hepatitis, as well as those who choose not to be treated, can develop liver failure and potentially need a liver transplant.
Overall, research has shown the life expectancies of people who receive treatment for autoimmune hepatitis to be similar to those of people without the disease. This is based on studies that followed people for up to 20 years. In one particular study, the overall 20-year survival rate for people with autoimmune hepatitis was similar (over 90 percent survival) to that of a similar group of people from the population at large (also over 90 percent survival).
Factors that may worsen the prognosis include:
  • Younger age at diagnosis -- autoimmune hepatitis in children tends to have a worse prognosis
  • Not responding to medicine
  • High levels of liver enzymes after receiving treatment
  • Other medical conditions the person has, including poorly controlled high blood pressure (hypertension) and diabetes.
Having cirrhosis at the time of diagnosis does not seem to affect life expectancy. In one research study, 10-year survival was no different for those with cirrhosis at entry than it was for those without cirrhosis at entry.
Without treatment, nearly 50 percent of patients with severe autoimmune hepatitis will die within five years. It is important to keep in mind, however, that this statistic comes from studies focused on patients with severe forms of the disease. The benefit of corticosteroids in a person without symptoms and minor damage seen with the liver biopsy is less clear. While the available data suggest that such patients have the potential to progress to cirrhosis, many of the studies were performed prior to the recognition of the hepatitis C virus (HCV). This raises the possibility that some patients with hepatitis C may have been misclassified as having autoimmune hepatitis.
Written by/reviewed by:
Last reviewed by: Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
Last updated/reviewed:
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