Your liver is a vital organ that performs over 500 functions. It plays an essential role in removing toxins from your blood and in the digestive process. More than 100 different diseases can affect the liver – and one of them is autoimmune hepatitis.

What is autoimmune hepatitis?

Autoimmune hepatitis (AIH) is a liver condition that occurs when your body’s immune system goes rogue and attacks your own liver cells when it should be fighting germs instead. 

An attack like that can seriously damage your liver cells and cause chronic inflammation. Over time, inflammation can lead to scarring of the liver (cirrhosis), which may eventually lead to a liver transplant to avoid progressing to liver failure.

Early diagnosis and treatment of autoimmune hepatitis may help to protect your liver.

Autoimmune hepatitis

Type 1 and type 2 autoimmune hepatitis 

There are two recognised types of autoimmune hepatitis

Type 1 is the most common and can occur at any age. While adults can sometimes develop type 2, it mostly affects children and young people.

What causes autoimmune hepatitis?

We haven’t yet pinpointed the exact cause of autoimmune hepatitis but it appears to be triggered when the genes controlling your immune system are exposed to certain viruses or drugs. 

When this ‘perfect storm’ occurs, your immune system mistakenly attacks your liver.  That can lead to chronic inflammation that damages your liver cells.

Risk factors for autoimmune hepatitis

Autoimmune hepatitis is more likely to develop if you: 

As you can see there’s a strong link with other autoimmune diseases. Unfortunately, if your immune system has attacked itself once, it’s more likely to do so again. It can go the other way too – about 25-50% of people with AIH go on to develop another autoimmune condition.


You might not experience any symptoms of autoimmune hepatitis until the condition is quite far advanced. If you do experience symptoms, they may include: 

  • Tiredness
  • Itching
  • Jaundice – yellow skin or whites of the eyes  
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Tummy aches
  • Mild flu-like symptoms
  • Weight loss
  • Paler poos
  • Darker urine
  • Joint pain
  • Rashes
  • Enlarged liver or spleen
  • Spider veins on the skin
  • Periods stopping.

Complications of autoimmune hepatitis

Untreated hepatitis may lead to serious complications such as:

How is autoimmune hepatitis diagnosed? 

Because many symptoms of autoimmune hepatitis could easily be caused by several other medical conditions, it’s important that you get the right diagnosis. See your GP initially. They may refer you to a doctor who specialises in digestive and liver disorders such as a gastroenterologist or hepatologist. 

Diagnosing autoimmune hepatitis involves gathering ‘clues’ about your liver health and using clinical judgement. 

Those ‘clues’ may come from: 

  • Listening to your symptoms and medical history
  • A clinical examination
  • Blood tests, which may include testing your antibodies for autoimmune hepatitis
  • Imaging scans
  • A liver biopsy. 

At Moonee Valley Specialist Centre, we’ve chosen a  high-tech, less non-invasive approach to diagnosing autoimmune hepatitis. We use a liver scan called the FibroScan® 502 Touch. This liver scan takes about 10 minutes and enables us to assess whether you have any liver damage. 

The results of this scan, along with your blood tests, symptoms and medical history, enable us to diagnose autoimmune hepatitis and assess its stage. From there, we can make well-informed recommendations for treatment.

Do I need a referral for a liver scan? 

A referral is not essential but it’s usually better.

When your GP refers you, their letter often includes information about your medical history and the results of any recent tests. That’s very helpful to us. A referral also enables us to spend more time with you explaining the results of your Fibroscan and advising on next steps. 

Without a referral, we will only provide a report and you will need to see your doctor to discuss the findings. 

Learn more about our liver scan service.

Autoimmune hepatitis treatment

If you’ve developed autoimmune hepatitis, you’ll need to see a gastroenterologist regularly for many years. You’ll also need regular blood tests or scans to check your liver function and to monitor disease progression. 

The goal of treatment is to slow down or stop your immune system’s attack on your liver. Initially, that usually involves taking a steroid, sometimes with another medication. You may start off on a high dose then reduce the dose over time to avoid side effects, trying to find the lowest dose that still controls your symptoms. 

Some people are able to stop medication eventually because their disease is in remission. Others find they need to keep taking the medication or the condition returns. 

If medication doesn’t succeed in defending your liver or if you develop cirrhosis or liver failure, you may need a liver transplant.

MVSC Church

How Moonee Valley Specialist Centre can help

We understand that any liver condition is concerning. Our empathetic and caring team can provide assessments, diagnosis, and management for autoimmune hepatitis. 

Dr Nathan Connelly is experienced in helping patients, focusing on providing holistic care to each person.

Please see your GP and ask for a referral.

Getting the most from your appointment at Moonee Valley Specialist Centre

To get the most from your appointment, we recommend that you:

  • Bring your referral (if you have one) and the results of any previous scans or blood tests  
  • Think about any questions or concerns you have – maybe write them down and bring a notebook with you as it makes it easier to remember the answers
  • Give yourself plenty of time to get here and find parking so that you don’t arrive feeling rushed. There is ample one and two-hour street parking on Mt Alexander Road and on Thorn Street just around the corner.

If you need to cancel or rearrange your appointment, please give us at least 24 hours notice to avoid late-cancellation fees.



*All information is general and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Moonee Valley Specialist Centre can consult with you to confirm if a particular treatment or procedure is right for you.

1003 Mt Alexander Road Essendon, VIC, 3040

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