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QJM. 2004 Jul;97(7):407-12.

Type 1 autoimmune hepatitis: patterns of clinical presentation and differential diagnosis of the 'acute' type.

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Dipartimento di Medicina Interna, Alma Mater Studiorum, Università di Bologna, Policlinico S. Orsola-Malpighi, Bologna, Italy.



Autoimmune hepatitis (AIH) has three different presentations: chronic, acute and asymptomatic.


To evaluate AIH presentation in Italian patients and investigate criteria that differentiate between acute-type AIH and acute viral hepatitis.


Prospective observational study.


Eighty-six consecutive patients with type 1 AIH and 41 with acute viral hepatitis (controls) were studied. 'Acute' AIH was defined as recent-onset (<30 days) symptoms (jaundice and/or fatigue and/or fever) with marked alterations in serum liver tests; the 'asymptomatic' pattern as the occasional detection of liver abnormalities, and the 'chronic' pattern as the presence of signs and/or symptoms of long-lasting liver disease.


Of 86 AIH patients, 59 (68%) presented with the chronic pattern, 22 (26%) with the acute pattern, and 5 (6%) were asymptomatic. 'Acute' patients had higher AST, ALT and bilirubin serum levels (p < 0.0001). No differences were detected with respect to age and serum levels of alkaline phosphatase, gamma-GT, albumin or gamma-globulin. All three groups had similar prevalences of moderate/severe (vs. mild) histological findings and liver cirrhosis. When compared with controls with acute viral hepatitis, 'acute' AIH patients were more often female (82% vs. 24%, p < 0.0001) and had higher serum gamma-globulin levels (26.9 vs. 13.4 g/l, p < 0.0001) and AST/ALT ratio (1.20 vs. 0.61, p < 0.0001).


Although in Italy type 1 AIH patients usually present with a chronic pattern, some 25% have an acute presentation resembling that of viral hepatitis. 'Acute' AIH and viral hepatitis can be reliably differentiated by simple parameters such as gender, gamma-globulin serum levels and AST/ALT ratio.

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