Autoimmune Hepatitis: Safety of Low Dose Steroids and Utility of Aminotransferases

K Manwani et al. JPGN 2022; 75: 252-256. Long-Term Growth in Children and Young People with Autoimmune Liver Disease Treated with Daily Steroids

This retrospective study of patients (n=74) diagnosed with autoimmune hepatitis (AH) prior to 16 years of age examined the safety of low dose steroids. Median age of patients with 12.8 yrs and median followup was 12.6 years. Typically, after induction, patients were tapered over ~2 months to 5 mg per day (& 2.5 mg per day if <12 years). Key findings:

  • Growth of patients with AILD on a daily maintenance dose of steroids remains stable and within normal range during long-term follow up.  At all time-points, the mean z-scores for weight, height and BMI were within the normal range, indicating normal nutritional status. 
  • Small, daily doses are effective in maintaining disease control and minimize the need for high-dose steroid pulses during relapses.
  • In this cohort, there were 14 patients in which prednisolone was utilized as monotherapy; the majority received cotherapy with azathioprine (n=44), mycophenolate (n=12); triple-therapy was utilized tacrolimus (n=4).
  • Prednisolone was stopped in 17 patients (23%) after a median time of 9.5 years (range 3 years-14 years)

M Biewenga et al. Clin Gastroenterol Hepatol 2022; 20: 1776-1783. Open access! Aminotransferases During Treatment Predict Long-Term Survival in Patients With Autoimmune Hepatitis Type 1: A Landmark Analysis

In this multicenter cohort study (n=301), it was shown that higher aminotransferases during treatment were independent of baseline risk factors associated with liver transplantation–free survival in patients with AIH type 1. Median followup was 99 months. Key finding:

  • During follow-up, 15 patients required liver transplantation and 33 patients died
  • In multivariate analysis AST at 12 months (HR, 2.13; P < .001) was predictive for survival independent of age, AST at diagnosis and cirrhosis, while IgG was not associated with survival (HR, 1.30; P = .53)
  • There was a trend toward a worse survival in patients with mildly elevated aminotransferases (1–1.5× upper limit of normal) compared with patients with normal aminotransferases (P = .097)

My take: Normalization of AST (aminotransferases), especially during the first year of treatment, is associated with better long-term outcomes. The study by Manwani et al suggest that long-term low dose steroids are associated with low risks.

Also: Y Li et al.Hepatology 2022; 76: 564-575. Genome-wide meta-analysis identifies susceptibility loci for autoimmune hepatitis type 1 This study with 1622 Chinese patients identified two novel loci (CD28/CTLA4/ICOS and SYNPR) and may provide potential targets for additional treatments.

Related blog posts:

AST Values and Cumulative Live Transplant-Free Survival

Methotrexate and liver toxicity

There are drawbacks with all of the therapies for inflammatory bowel disease; however, usually the inflammatory bowel disease is worse than any of the medications. One of the therapies that  has started to see increased usage in Crohn’s disease is methotrexate (MTX), both as an alternative to thiopurines and as an adjunct to Remicade.  There are a number of side effects; a patient handout is available at the following:

One of the concerns with MTX has been liver toxicity, in part because of descriptions in the rheumatology literature with long-term usage.  In Crohn’s disease patients, it appears that the risk is much lower (Inflamm Bowel Dis 2012; 18: 359-67).  This study found 13 trials for their meta-analysis.  A total of 632 participants were included: 373 MTX, 131 thiopurines, 128 placebo.  In the MTX group, elevated hepatic aminotransferases occurred in 1.4 per 100 person-months.  The rate of elevation more than 2-fold the upper limit of normal was 0.9 per 100 person-months.  Thus, of the initial 373 patients, 39 had an abnormal aminotransferase.  26 of these 39 had spontaneous resolution, 3 improved with dose reduction & 10 withdrew from MTX treatment (0.8 per 100 person-months).  Seven of these withdrawals were from one of the earlier studies (Feagan et al. NEJM 1995; 332: 292-97). Besides the low likelihood of needing to stop MTX due to liver toxicity, the other observation was that the liver toxicity was mostly dependent on the dose; therefore, dosage reduction would likely be effective if needed.

In my practice, when considering MTX treatment, I usually recommend the following:

  • Monitoring: Baseline: CXR, CBC, Amylase, Renal, LFTs, urine HCG & then Q2-4 weeks initially, then Q3months
  • Give Folate during therapy.
  • Use zofran if needed for nausea
  • Avoid NSAIDs during treatment due to renal toxicity
  • Contraindicated with pregnancy (MTX=teratogen) -females should see gynecology
  • Families warned in writing that this medication is given once a week; more often can be deadly

Additional references:

  • -IBD 2011; 17: 2521. ~25% remission at 1yr, 16% at 2yrs.. n=93.
  • -JPGN 2011;53: 389. n=64. Supports use of zofran for 1st few months to prevent nausea.
  • -JPGN 2010; 51: 714. Use of MTX after thiopurines. n=27. 48% in remission at 6 months.
  • -JPGN 2009; 48: 526. Use in pediatric CD, n=25. 64% response
  • -JPGN 2009; 48 suppl 2: S111. MTX may be effective for UC.
  • -NEJM 2008; 359: 2790. Similar safety of AZA and MTX in vasculitis patients. AZA may be safer.
  • -IBD 2008; 14: 756. MTX in Crohn’s. n=39. 71% remission (20% steroid-free).
  • -J Clin Pharm & Therapeutics 2007; 32: 327-31.
  • -Am J Health Syst Pharm 2004; 61: 1380-84. review of MTX errors -FDA reported
  • -Am J Gastro 2007; 102: 2804-2812. n=60 pediatric patients. ~42% in remission with MTX & ~50% improved. 13% (8) had to stop due to increased LFTs or sepsis.
  • -IBD 2006; 12: 1053. n=61. MTX for AZA nonresponders/breakthroughs: 80% with improvement/ 45% with long-term response; 10% discontinued due to side effects. Steroids stopped in 36.
  • -JPGN 2005; 40: 445. Oral MTX works as well as IM/SC.
  • -JPGN 2003; 37: 392 (194A) 0.4 mg/kg/weekly. 91% response at 2 mo, most still needed remicade
  • -Gastroenterology 2003; 124: suppl 1, A-41 (305) 11/12 responded – able to stop remicade
  • -Feagan et al. NEJM 1995; 332: 292-97.
  • -J Pediatr 1999: 134: 47. Hepatotoxic risk factors. (enzymes & obesity). Consider bx if serial enzymes increased >40% of the time over 1 year
  • -Arthritis Rheum 1997; 40: 2226.