Infection with the hepatitis C virus (HCV) can trigger autoimmune hepatitis (AIH) in a minority of patients. This means that the liver cells are damaged not only by the virus but also by the body's own immune system.
If you’ve just found out you have hepatitis C, you have a lot of questions. If you’re like most people with this condition, you probably never knew you had it until now.
You’re not alone. Hepatitis C isn’t rare in the U.S., especially among baby boomers -- people born between 1945 and 1965. People this age are five times more likely than others to get the virus, which causes swelling and scarring of the liver.
AIH triggers the body to attack its liver cells as if the liver cells were harmful foreign substances. Patients with a combination of HCV and autoimmune hepatitis may suffer from more debilitating symptoms than patients with HCV alone. Autoimmune hepatitis is associated with other autoimmune illnesses, including thyroiditis (inflammation of the thyroid), diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis (inflammation of the joints), and ulcerative colitis (inflammation of the large intestine).
Below are some frequently asked questions about the complex relationship between HCV and autoimmune hepatitis.
Q. What are the Symptoms of Autoimmune Hepatitis?
A. In its most clandestine form, AIH may be detected during the evaluation of HCV in a person who is asymptomatic (without symptoms). An asymptomatic presentation occurs approximately 15% to 20% of the time. People whose condition is asymptomatic often have a milder course of disease. At the opposite extreme, AIH may be discovered during an attack of the disease, usually characterized by grossly elevated liver-related blood tests, jaundice, severe itching, right upper quadrant pain, and fatigue. This occurs in up to 25% of the cases. Other people fall somewhere in between, having vague symptoms such as a general sense of lethargy, muscle and joint aches, or mild abdominal discomfort.
Fatigue is the most common and often the sole symptom, occurring in approximately 85% of symptomatic people. The severity of fatigue does not always correlate with the degree of liver inflammation and damage.