, Volume 25, Issue 3, pp 219-239
Date: 01 Sep 2012

Clinical Features, Differential Diagnosis and Treatment of Autoimmune Hepatitis in the Elderly

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Abstract

Autoimmune hepatitis affects all ages, and it is probably under-diagnosed in the elderly. Patients aged ≥60 years have a higher frequency of cirrhosis at presentation than adults aged ≤30 years, and they more commonly have HLA DRB1*04. These findings suggest that host factors affect the clinical phenotype by influencing the antigens that are presented to immunocytes and the nature of the immune response. The elderly may have an indolent progressive disease that is asymptomatic or masked by other concurrent rheumatic conditions. An acute, even fulminant, presentation may reflect de novo disease or a spontaneous exacerbation of a pre-existent chronic process. Centrilobular (zone 3) necrosis may reflect an early histological stage that transforms later to classical interface hepatitis. Diagnostic criteria have been codified, and a scoring system allows systemic assessment of all clinical features and quantifies the strength of the diagnosis. Prednisone in combination with azathioprine is the safest effective initial treatment, and all elderly patients with severe disease should be treated vigorously to full resolution of clinical, laboratory and histological features. Adverse effects of treatment occur mainly with protracted treatment (>18 months) and repeated therapies after relapse. Adjustments in the management strategy are warranted for an incomplete response or a need for re-treatment after relapse. Azathioprine (2 mg/kg/day) should be used as a corticosteroid-sparing, long-term maintenance therapy in these instances. Treatment failure is uncommon in the elderly, and age-related changes in the cellular immune response may attenuate the disease and enhance its response to therapy. Concurrent adjuvant therapies must focus on maintenance of bone density.