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.
You can be infected with the hepatitis C virus and have no symptoms. Your doctor could find it when he checks your blood and sees that your level of certain liver enzymes is high. If that happens, he'll follow up with other tests to confirm you have the disease.
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.