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Kelvin Lynch
Andrea Mega
Andrea Piccin
Massimo Daves
Helen Fogarty


Sickle Cell, Autoimmune, Liver Disease, Hepaitits, Steroids, Vaso-occlusive Crisis, Abnormal Liver Function, Phosphatidylserine, Heme Inflammatory, Complement, Alloimmunisation, Antibody, ANA, LKM-1, SMA, LC-1, SLA, Anti-ASGPR


  • In patients with SCD, chronic liver damage is a common manifestation. More than 50% of SCD patients have elevated liver enzymes. Common underlying aetiologies include sickle cell hepatic crisis, viral hepatitis, sickle cell intrahepatic cholestasis and hepatic sequestration in the acute setting, and cholelithiasis and iron overload in the chronic setting. Autoimmune hepatitis (AIH) is a rare disease that appears to occur more commonly in the sickle cell disease (SCD) population than in the general population. There are many schools of thought as to why this is the case, including the phosphatidylserine hypothesis, the heme inflammatory hypothesis, the complement generation hypothesis, and the transfusion alloimmunization hypothesis.


  • Due to the natural history of the two illnesses, SCD is almost always diagnosed first in cases of dual pathology. Symptoms such as jaundice, fatigue, and abdominal pain are common in SCD, as are abnormal liver function tests (LFTs). These abnormalities, attributed to the other more frequent liver involvements in SCD, can lead to delays in AIH diagnosis in this population.

  • Corticosteroids, sometimes with other immunosuppressive agents, such as azathioprine, are the cornerstone of acute AIH treatment (4). However, corticosteroid use in the SCD population has been shown to carry an increased risk of vaso-occlusive crises (1, 5), providing a treatment dilemma.


  • The following is a review of AIH in the SCD population, where we explore the pathophysiology behind the association between the two disorders, discuss an approach to investigating abnormal LFTs in SCD, and examine treatment options in this population with co-existing diseases.


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2. Piccin A, O'Connor-Byrne N, Daves M, Lynch K, Farshbaf AD, Martin-Loeches I. Autoimmune disease and sickle cell anaemia: 'Intersecting pathways and differential diagnosis'. Br J Haematol. 2022;197(5):518-28.
3. Johnson CS, Omata M, Tong MJ, Simmons JF, Jr., Weiner J, Tatter D. Liver involvement in sickle cell disease. Medicine (Baltimore). 1985;64(5):349-56.