Autoimmune Liver Disease

The body’s immune system is a vital part of our survival. However, when certain signals get crossed, the immune system can mistakenly attack parts of the liver, leading to inflammation and scarring. The treatment for these conditions is to modulate, or control, the immune system using medications. In some cases, the conditions progress to cirrhosis and liver or bile duct cancer.

Autoimmune Hepatitis

This condition is one in which the liver cells are attacked by the body’s immune system, leading to inflammation and scarring. Women are more prone to this condition than men, and it can occur in both the young and old. Often, there are other autoimmune conditions in the family tree, as there is a strong genetic component to these disorders. Early diagnosis can lead to the use of medications to control the immune system and restore order. If not diagnosed, this can lead to liver cirrhosis and liver failure. The diagnosis is made by blood tests and a liver biopsy.

Primary Sclerosing Cholangitis

This condition is often diagnosed in younger people and affects the large bile ducts that are within the liver, and also carry bile to the intestinal tract. The ducts become damaged, scarred and narrowed by the inflammation induced by the immune system. This can lead to infections, jaundice and ultimately bile duct cancer. Many patients with PSC also have inflammatory bowel disease such as ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease. Early diagnosis is key to prevention.

Primary Biliary Cholangitis

This is a disorder of small bile ducts, often found in middle-aged women, and can lead to cirrhosis and its complications. There are treatments, which are generally effective and if diagnosed and given early in the disease stages, can prevent progression.

The exact causes of these immune mediated liver conditions are not clear, but scientists continue to strive to understand the body’s immune system and unlock these mysteries.