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Challenges in the diagnosis and management of autoimmune hepatitis.

BACKGROUND: Autoimmune hepatitis has diverse clinical phenotypes and outcomes that challenge current diagnostic criteria and management algorithms.

OBJECTIVES: To highlight the major difficulties in diagnosis and management, describe the efforts to ease them and encourage further progress in problem solving.

METHODS: The MEDLINE database was reviewed for published experiences from 1984 to 2013.

RESULTS: Acute or acute severe (fulminant) hepatitis, asymptomatic mild disease, and histological findings of centrilobular necrosis or bile duct injury can confound diagnosis and treatment. Continuation of conventional therapy until normal liver test results and liver tissue reduces the frequency of relapse, but does not prevent its occurrence. Problematic patients can be identified using mathematical models, clinical phenotype, serological markers and the speed of improvement after treatment; however, their recognition and treatment are inconsistent. Mycophenolate mofetil can rescue patients with azathioprine intolerance but is less effective for refractory disease. Budesonide in combination with azathioprine can be used frontline, but is effective primarily in noncirrhotic, uncomplicated disease. Molecular and cellular interventions are feasible but largely unevaluated.

DISCUSSION: Resolution of the current challenges requires revision of diagnostic criteria, characterization of biological markers that reflect pathogenic pathways, development of dynamic indexes based on changes in disease behaviour, and introduction of new pharmacological, molecular and cellular interventions that have undergone rigorous evaluation.

CONCLUSION: These challenges reflect important remediable deficiencies in current management.

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