Autoimmune Diseases

The man affected by Autoimmune disease

Treating Autoimmune Diseases of the Liver

Have you been diagnosed with an autoimmune disease? Perhaps a loved one just found out they have autoimmune hepatitis, and you’re hoping to learn more. Whatever the case for you, Rocky Mountain Gastroenterology is an excellent source of information about these harmful conditions. Autoimmune diseases can wreak havoc on the body, but many are manageable with proper treatment. Our team is dedicated to helping patients throughout Colorado get the exceptional treatment they deserve.

What Is an Autoimmune Disease?

Normally, the immune system does a fantastic job of guarding the body against bacteria and viruses. While you might get sick every once in a while, most people can rest assured that their immune system is eliminating most threats. However, those with autoimmune diseases deal with a malfunctioning immune system. These conditions cause the immune system to attack healthy parts of the body, mistaking them for foreign cells. Today, we know of a slew of different autoimmune diseases that attack particular organs, including the liver.

What Causes an Autoimmune Disease?

The research is still not clear on what exactly causes an autoimmune disease. Studies have shown that women may be more susceptible, and certain ethnic groups may be predisposed to certain autoimmune conditions. Genetics and environmental factors like chemical exposure are also suspected causes of some autoimmune diseases.

Symptoms of an Autoimmune Disease

Autoimmune disease symptoms vary significantly depending on the exact condition you’re dealing with. Nevertheless, it appears that the early signs of disease are similar across conditions. Fatigue, achy muscles, and swelling are common symptoms of early-stage autoimmune diseases. Hair loss, numbness, rashes, fever, and trouble focusing are also often associated with these conditions. However, it’s also important to remember that individual autoimmune diseases may come with their own set of specific symptoms.

Learn More About Autoimmune Diseases in the Liver

At Rocky Mountain Gastroenterology, we specialize in diagnosing and treating autoimmune diseases of the liver. These harmful conditions typically have few symptoms in the early phases but can eventually lead to liver failure and the need for a transplant. We encourage you to get familiar with these forms of autoimmune disease:

Autoimmune Hepatitis

Autoimmune hepatitis is a condition in which the body’s immune system begins attacking healthy cells in the liver. Most patients with autoimmune hepatitis report swelling and inflammation that eventually leads to liver damage. This disease can occur in people of any age and is especially common in women. In many cases, autoimmune hepatitis is linked with other types of autoimmune diseases.


Not everyone with autoimmune hepatitis experiences the condition in the same way. While symptoms vary from patient to patient, the most common signs of the disease include:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Joint pain or swelling
  • Itching
  • Unexplained fatigue
  • Yellowing of the skin and eyes
  • Loss of appetite
  • Dark-colored urine
  • Confusion
  • Flu-like symptoms

Risk Factors

As previously mentioned, autoimmune hepatitis can develop in patients of any age and gender. However, certain risk factors increase your chances of being diagnosed with the condition. Look out for these risk factors and talk to your doctor if you have any points of concern:

  • Genetics: Some studies have shown a potential link between genetics and autoimmune hepatitis. Many cases appear to run in families.
  • Infection: Certain infections appear to be associated with the development of autoimmune hepatitis. Patients who have had measles, herpes simplex, or Epstein-Barr virus should take special care to look for symptoms.
  • Other Autoimmune Diseases: If you have a history of autoimmune disease, it’s important to stay vigilant for this condition’s symptoms. Patients with celiac disease, Graves’ disease, or rheumatoid arthritis may be more susceptible to autoimmune hepatitis.

Primary Biliary Cirrhosis

Primary biliary cirrhosis, more commonly known today as primary biliary cholangitis, is a condition that causes the bile ducts in the liver to slowly wear down. The bile ducts are crucial for absorbing vitamins and eliminating toxins, and the destruction of these ducts can lead to inflammation, cirrhosis, and liver failure.


Because primary biliary cirrhosis can lead to such severe complications, it’s vital to get familiar with the symptoms. In the early stages of the disease, patients might only experience fatigue and itchy skin. But as the condition develops (sometimes over five to twenty years), symptoms tend to become more noticeable. Later stages of the disease are associated with these symptoms:

  • Abdominal pain (on the upper right side)
  • Joint pain
  • Swollen feet or ankles
  • Dry eyes
  • Jaundice or darkening skin
  • Diarrhea
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Osteoporosis
  • Fatty deposits around the eyes

Risk Factors

Primary biliary cirrhosis does not have very specific risk factors. However, we are aware of some general populations that appear to be at higher risk of developing the disease. Primary biliary cirrhosis is more common in women and tends to occur in people between the ages of 30 and 60. Genetics may also play a role in the condition, as it seems to develop more often in people with a family history of primary biliary cirrhosis.

Primary Sclerosing Cholangitis

Similar to primary biliary cirrhosis, this condition also affects the bile ducts that carry digestive liquid from the liver. Patients with primary sclerosing cholangitis develop scars within the bile ducts that eventually lead to the hardening and narrowing of the pathway. Gradually, the ducts can no longer properly transport bile, leading to inflammation, infections, tumors, and liver failure. Many patients end up needing a liver transplant to address the condition.


Patients with primary sclerosing cholangitis experience similar symptoms as those with primary biliary cirrhosis. Early on, people report fatigue, itchiness, yellowing skin and eyes, and abdominal pain. But as the condition progress, patients may begin to notice these autoimmune disease symptoms as well:

  • Fever
  • Weight loss
  • Enlarged liver or spleen
  • Chills
  • Night sweats

Risk Factors

Primary sclerosing cholangitis can occur in individuals of any age, but the condition appears to be more common in men between the ages of 30 and 40. Research also suggests that people of Northern European heritage are at higher risk of developing the condition. Further, patients who also have inflammatory bowel disease should take special care to look for signs of primary sclerosing cholangitis.

Talk to Our Team About Autoimmune Diseases

Dealing with an autoimmune disease is daunting, but the team at Rocky Mountain Gastroenterology will be with you every step of the way. We have locations spread across the Denver area, and we’re glad to consult with you and answer your questions. Our team will sit down with you and explore treatment options and ways to slow down the progression of the disease. Contact us today to schedule your appointment.

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