What causes autoimmune hepatitis?

When the body mistakenly fights against itself, it is known as an autoimmune disorder. While it is unknown why the body may react this way, those who have other autoimmune diseases like thyroiditis, ulcerative colitis, diabetes mellitus, vitiligo, Sjogren's syndrome and lupus are more likely to develop autoimmune hepatitis.

What are the related symptoms?

The symptoms of autoimmune hepatitis are the same as those for hepatitis, beginning with general fatigue, abdominal discomfort and aching joints that are often mistaken for the flu. Once autoimmune hepatitis progresses to severe cirrhosis the following symptoms can be expected:

  • Jaundice
  • Swelling of the abdomen
  • Confusion
  • Intestinal bleeding

Because those with this condition have often already been diagnosed with other autoimmune conditions, your doctor will know you are at risk of developing more autoimmune conditions and will be able to diagnose autoimmune hepatitis easily. To confirm a diagnosis, your gastroenterologist may do a blood test to see if certain antibodies are present in the blood. To determine the severity of the inflammation and condition of the liver, Dr Mokhele may also test a sample of the liver tissue from a liver biopsy.

What does management or treatment involve?

When autoimmune hepatitis is caught early, steroids may be used to combat inflammation in the liver. For more severe cases, treatment is aimed at inhibiting the immune response that is causing damage to the liver. Of course, the use of immune-suppressing medications will require a healthy lifestyle and taking the necessary medical precautions to prevent opportunistic infections from attacking the now lowered immune response. As a specialist Gastroenterologist, Dr Mokhele has extensive experience in the complex treatment of this condition.

He will not only focus on treatment but on the management of the complications that arise – namely the effects of cirrhosis. Cirrhosis is the permanent scarring of the liver tissue caused by chronic and severe liver damage. This condition not only leads to liver failure and an increased risk of developing liver cancer, but it also causes gastrointestinal problems such as enlarged veins in your oesophagus (oesophagal varices) and fluid in your abdomen (ascites).

In severe cases where there is severe liver damage, cirrhosis is well advanced, and medications fail, a liver transplant may be considered. In such cases, Dr Mokhele may assist in the process and support this option with the referral to the necessary specialists and surgeons when needed.


Gastrocure, Eastern Cape