8 Things to Know About Autoimmune Disease

Chronic illnesses can be challenging. Those affecting the liver, like Autoimmune Hepatitis (AIH), Primary Sclerosing Cholangitis (PSC) and Primary Biliary Cholangitis (PBC) are no exception. While research advances daily, there’s still much to learn. Here are eight things to know about autoimmune diseases:

  1. An autoimmune liver disease develops when your own immune system mistakes normal, healthy tissue for a foreign body. As a result the immune system attacks healthy liver cells (as with AIH) or bile duct cells (PSC, PBC).
  2. You’re not alone. Autoimmune diseases are a leading cause of chronic illness in the U.S. Over 23 million Americans have an autoimmune disease, according to the National Institutes of Health. That’s more people than live in Florida, New Mexico and Maine, combined. The American Autoimmune Related Disease Association (AARDA) estimates the number in the U.S. to be as great as 50 million.
  3. Autoimmune liver diseases can overlap. Main categories of autoimmune liver diseases include autoimmune hepatitisprimary biliary cholangitis;and primary sclerosing cholangitis. Although most cases clearly fall into one of these categories, a 2007 study in Modern Pathology reported that “overlap syndromes (primarily of AIH with PBC or PSC) may comprise up to 10 percent of cases.”
  4. People diagnosed with autoimmune liver diseases have an increased risk of developing other immunities like celiac disease and inflammatory bowel disease.
  5. Hold the salt and check the sugar. People with AIH, PSC or PBC may get relief from cutting salt intake to help to reduce fluid build-up (edema or swelling). Also, for those using the steroid prednisone in treatment, keep blood sugars under control, by opting for foods that are low on the glycemic index. That will help avoid weight gain that can contribute to developing diabetes, too – a cause of liver disease in its own right.
  6. Vitamin D’s possible role in autoimmune diseases is sparking interest. For example many autoimmune diseases are more common further from the equator. That may be connected to less sunlight – a crucial contributor to higher levels of vitamin D.
  7. The Federal Government is working to end autoimmune diseases. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) estimates having spent about $988 million on the topic in 2019. That may sound like a lot, but it’s less than three percent of the overall research budget, and in the same year, the NIH spent over $1 billion on diabetes studies. The American Liver Foundation is working to increase research dollars for all types of liver diseases, through our Early Career Research Awards.
  8. Although there are no cures yet for autoimmune liver disease, treatments exist that can help manage conditions. Research continues to offer hope. Information on current clinical trials can be found at www.clinicaltrials.gov.

Last updated on July 12th, 2022 at 12:53 pm

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