Medications for Autoimmune Hepatitis
Doctors at Hassenfeld Children’s Hospital at NYU Langone treat children and adolescents who have autoimmune hepatitis with medication to reduce inflammation in the liver and eliminate symptoms. Most of these medications are taken by mouth, although some may be injected into a vein.
Our doctors may prescribe corticosteroids, also called steroids, to reduce inflammation in the liver. Usually taken by mouth for several months, these medications, such as prednisone, help to suppress the immune system response and prevent it from attacking healthy liver cells. If your child has a more severe form of autoimmune hepatitis, he or she may need to take these medications for life to control inflammation and prevent further liver damage.
Taking steroids for long periods of time can prevent the absorption of vitamin D and calcium, which can lead to bone loss. Steroids can also cause weight gain and increase a child’s risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Your doctor weighs these risks against your child’s health concerns to recommend the most appropriate treatment.
Your child’s doctor may recommend a medication called azathioprine (Imuran®) in combination with steroids. Azathioprine is an immunosuppressant, meaning it inhibits the immune system response in order to prevent symptoms from returning. This medication decreases the production of T cells, a type of white blood cell that launches an inflammatory response to neutralize foreign substances—although in autoimmune hepatitis, T cells attack healthy cells in the liver.
Your child may be able to take a lower dose of a steroid if azathioprine is prescribed along with it. But this medication can also prevent the body from fighting infections and increases the risk of developing certain cancers, including nonmelanoma skin cancer and non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Our doctors recommend that your child use sunscreen and take other precautions against sun exposure when spending time outside.
Bile salts are substances made in the liver that help to digest fats, absorb fat-soluble vitamins, and remove wastes from the liver. Doctors usually prescribe synthetic bile salts to support the liver in children and adolescents with autoimmune hepatitis.
Children with autoimmune hepatitis may not absorb certain vitamins well enough from food. Vitamins A, D, E, and K may be prescribed as supplements to ensure that your child gets the nutrients he or she needs to grow and develop.