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The immune system protects the body by attacking and destroying foreign and harmful substances. However, in autoimmune liver diseases, the body’s immune system attacks its own liver (liver cells and bile duct cells), causing inflammation and liver damage. Untreated autoimmune liver disease can progress into cirrhosis, liver failure and cancer.

Early symptoms of autoimmune liver diseases may include joint pain, abdominal discomfort, unexplained rash, dark coloured urine, light or grey coloured stool, vomiting and decreased appetite. With the progression of the disease your skin and eyes may turn yellowish in colour (jaundice), along with more severe joint pain, vomiting and weight loss. In due course, as the liver weakens, you may notice symptoms of cirrhosis.

Autoimmune liver diseases can be diagnosed with a series of blood tests. Your doctor may recommend a biopsy of the liver to rule out other conditions. Treatment involves medications for suppressing the activity of the immune system (immunosuppressants) and to decrease swelling (steroids). Most cases can be controlled especially if the condition is diagnosed early. The disease is usually put into remission within 3 years, in most cases. Advanced cases of autoimmune liver diseases may require liver transplantation.


  • Medical Board of Australia
  • Royal Australasian College of Physicians
  • Gastroenterological Society of Australia
  • American Society for Gastrointestinal Endoscopy
  • American Gastroenterological Association
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