Steroid-Free Approach in Autoimmune Hepatitis

A recent case report (A Wehrman et al. J Pediatr 2019; 207: 244-7) described steroid free treatment of autoimmune hepatitis (AIH) in 8 patients.

This retrospective review of all patients with AIH at CHOP between 2009-2014 compared patients who had AIH treated with (n=12) and without steroids (aka azathioprine monotherapy). Near normalization of ALT was defined as less than 2 x ULN.

Key findings:

  • All children in the steroid group had normalization of liver enzymes by 12 months of therapy compared with only 2 of 8 in the steroid-free group. Though, near normalization of ALT occurred at a median of 5.5 months in the steroid free group (compared with 1.8 months in the steroid group).
  • Adverse effects were evident in 75% of the steroid group compared with 11% of the steroid-free group

The authors conclude that “liver enzymes may take longer to normalize without steroids, but this difference was not statistically significant in our small cohort, nor did it lead to any adverse outcomes.”

My take: Standard therapy for AIH is prednisone for induction with subsequent azathioprine.  This study shows that in patients unwilling to take steroids or with intolerance that azathioprine monotherapy may be an effective alternative though liver enzymes are likely to take much longer to improve.

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