Is Alcoholic Hepatitis?
Alcoholic hepatitis is a diseased, inflammatory
condition of the liver caused by excessive alcohol consumption over an extended
period of time. If you develop this condition, you must stop drinking alcohol.
Continued drinking can lead to additional health problems, such as cirrhosis (permanent
scarring) of the liver, or even liver failure.
Causes Alcoholic Hepatitis?
When alcohol gets processed in the liver, it
produces highly toxic chemicals. These chemicals can injure the liver cells.
This injury then leads to inflammation, and alcoholic hepatitis.
Although heavy drinking causes alcoholic
hepatitis, doctors are not entirely sure why the condition develops. Alcoholic
hepatitis only develops in a minority of heavy drinkers. It can also develop in
people who are only moderate drinkers.
Because alcoholic hepatitis doesn’t occur in
all heavy drinkers, other factors may influence the development of this
condition. These include:
- genetic factors that affect how
the body processes alcohol
- the presence of other liver
disorders, such as hepatitis C
- concurrent consumption of food
(drinking outside of meal times triples the risk of getting alcoholic
Women are at a greater risk (twice as likely
as men) of developing alcoholic hepatitis. This may be due to the differences
in how the male and female bodies absorb and break down alcohol.
Are the Symptoms of Alcoholic Hepatitis?
The symptoms of alcoholic hepatitis vary
depending on the amount of damage to the liver. If you have a mild case of the
disease, you may not experience any symptoms. However, as more damage occurs,
you may begin to experience:
- changes in appetite
- dry mouth
- weight loss
- nausea and vomiting
- pain or swelling in the abdomen
- yellowing of the skin or eyes
- changes in your mental state,
The symptoms of alcoholic hepatitis are similar
to those caused by other health conditions. If you develop any of these
symptoms, you should contact your doctor to get a proper diagnosis and begin
Is Alcoholic Hepatitis Diagnosed?
If you have symptoms of alcoholic hepatitis,
your doctor will ask you about your health history and alcohol consumption.
Your doctor will also perform a physical exam to see if you have an enlarged
liver or spleen. They may decide to order tests to confirm your diagnosis.
These could include:
- complete blood count (CBC)
- liver function test
- abdominal computerized tomography
- ultrasound of the liver
Your doctor may order a liver biopsy if these
tests can’t confirm a diagnosis. A liver biopsy is an invasive procedure (with
certain inherent risks) that requires your doctor to remove a tissue sample
from the liver. A liver biopsy will show if you have liver disease. This test
will also show whether or not you have alcoholic hepatitis.
Options for Alcoholic Hepatitis
You need to stop drinking if you receive an
alcoholic hepatitis diagnosis. You may be able to reverse the damage to your
liver by avoiding alcohol.
Even if the damage is too severe to reverse,
you should still quit drinking to prevent further harm to your liver. You might
need help to stop drinking, especially if you’re struggling with alcohol
addiction. Be sure to talk to your doctor about the different treatment options
for addiction. There are many excellent hospitals and clinic facilities that
specialize in alcohol detoxification.
Treatment for alcoholic hepatitis may include
medications that reduce inflammation in your liver and improve liver function.
Your doctor may also prescribe vitamin and
nutrient supplements if you’re malnourished. These nutrients may be provided
through a feeding tube if you’re having trouble eating. A feeding tube passes
from your nose or mouth into your stomach, allowing nutrient-rich liquids to
enter your body.
Your doctor may recommend a liver transplant
if your liver is severely damaged. To qualify for a transplant, you must
demonstrate that you won’t continue drinking if you receive a new liver. You
will also need to abstain from alcohol for at least six months. In some cases,
you may need to seek counseling as well.
Can You Prevent Alcoholic Hepatitis?
The best way to prevent alcoholic hepatitis
is to avoid alcohol or, if you drink, to do so only in moderation. You can also
prevent alcoholic hepatitis through proper nutrition and by protecting yourself
from hepatitis C. Hepatitis C is a blood-borne disease that spreads by sharing
needles and other equipment for drug use, or by having unprotected sex.
Outlook for Alcoholic Hepatitis
Your outlook depends on the severity of your
symptoms and the amount of damage to your liver. Your outlook also depends on
whether you’re able to stop drinking. If your symptoms are mild and you stop
drinking, your prognosis is typically good.
If you don’t stop drinking and your condition
worsens, your overall outcome and chances for recovery will worsen as well.
Alcoholic hepatitis can lead to hepatic encephalopathy. This condition occurs
when the toxins typically filtered out by your liver remain in the blood. These
toxins can cause brain damage and lead to a coma. Your outlook may worsen if
you develop scarring of the liver (cirrhosis) as a result of your drinking.