Background: Autoimmune hepatitis (AIH) is presumed to be rare in India. The present prospective study was carried out to determine the prevalence, clinical, biochemical and histological profile of patients with AIH in India.
Methods: Consecutive patients with chronic liver disease suspected to be AIH, were screened for antinuclear antibodies (ANA), antismooth muscle antibodies (ASMA), antimitochondrial antibody (AMA), and anti-liver kidney microsomal antibodies (anti-LKM-1). Serum protein electrophoresis and liver biopsy were done. Autoimmune hepatitis was diagnosed according to the International Autoimmune Hepatitis Group criteria.
Results: Fifty of 1358 (3.43%) patients with chronic liver disease were diagnosed as autoimmune liver disease; 39 with AIH, two with overlap syndrome, five with primary sclerosing cholangitis, and four with primary biliary cirrhosis. Twenty-nine patients were categorized as definite AIH and 10 as probable AIH. Autoimmune hepatitis was common in females (males : females 1:3), with a mean age of 31 ± 17 years. Patients often presented with fatigue, jaundice and anorexia. Skin lesions (58%), joint symptoms (30%), and menstrual abnormalities (26%) were not uncommon. Mildly elevated alkaline phosphatase and hyper gamma globulinemia were seen in 78 and 91% patients, respectively. Eighty percent of patients were type I AIH, while 20% of cases remained unclassified. Histopathological changes included piecemeal necrosis (100%), plasma cell infiltration (91%), rosette formation (82%), and cirrhosis (76%). Overall mortality was 25% during a mean follow up of 15.7 ± 17.0 months.
Conclusions: Our results clearly demonstrate that: (i) AIH is not uncommon in India; and (ii) while the profile and spectrum of AIH resembles that seen in the West, Indian patients present late, often in a cirrhotic state.