Alcoholic Hepatitis

Alcoholic hepatitis is a disease, inflammatory condition of the liver caused by heavy alcohol consumption over an extended period. It’s also aggravated by binge drinking and ongoing alcohol use.  If you develop this condition, you must stop drinking alcohol. Continued alcohol can lead to additional health problems, such as cirrhosis, excessive bleeding, or 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 alcohol use leads to alcoholic hepatitis, doctors aren’t entirely sure why the condition develops. It develops in a minority of clients who heavily use alcohol — no more than 35 percent.[1] It can also develop in clients who moderately use alcohol.

Hepatitis is inflammation of the liver that leads to liver cell damage and cell death. Alcoholic hepatitis is caused by drinking too much alcohol.
Hepatitis is inflammation of the liver that leads to liver cell damage and cell death. Alcoholic hepatitis is caused by drinking too much alcohol.

A typical patient with alcoholic hepatitis (AH) provides a history of average daily consumption of over 80 g of ethanol for over 5 years. [2]

Risk Factors For Alcoholic Hepatitis

Because alcoholic hepatitis doesn’t occur in all clients who excessively use alcohol, other factors may influence the development of this condition. These include:

  • Being Overweight
  • Timing of drinking about eating (drinking during mealtimes lowers the risk of developing alcoholic hepatitis)
  • Malnutrition
  • Genetic factors that affect how the body processes alcohol
  • The presence of liver infections or other liver disorders, such as hepatitis B, hepatitis C, and hemochromatosis

Women are at a greater risk of developing alcoholic hepatitis. This may be due to the differences in how the bodies of men and women absorb and break down alcohol.

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:

  • Weight Loss
  • Nausea and Vomiting
  • Pain or Swelling in the abdomen
  • Changes in appetite
  • Dry Mouth
  • Fever
  • Changes in your mental state, including confusion
  • Fatigue
  • Jaundice, or yellowing of the skin or eyes
  • Easy bleeding or bruising

The symptoms of alcoholic hepatitis are similar to those caused by other health conditions. If you develop these symptoms, you should contact your doctor to get a proper diagnosis and begin treatment.

How Is Alcoholic Hepatitis Diagnosed?

If you have symptoms, 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 so they can confirm your diagnosis. These tests could include:

  • Blood Clotting Tests
  • Abdominal CT Scan
  • Ultrasound of the liver
  • Complete Blood Count (CBC)
  • Liver Function Test

Your doctor may order a liver biopsy if needed to confirm a diagnosis of alcoholic hepatitis.  A liver biopsy is an invasive procedure with certain inherent risks. It requires your doctor to remove a tissue sample from the liver. In addition, a liver biopsy will show the severity and type of liver disease.

Possible Complications

If you don’t stop drinking and your condition worsens, your overall outcome and recovery chances will worsen. For example, alcoholic hepatitis can lead to hepatic encephalopathy. This condition occurs when the toxins typically filtered out by your liver remain in the bloodstream. These toxins can cause brain damage and lead to a coma. Likewise, your outlook may worsen if you develop cirrhosis as a result of excessive alcohol use. Bleeding complications, anemia, and liver failure can become life-threatening.

Prevention

The best way to prevent alcoholic hepatitis is to avoid alcohol or, if you drink, only in moderation. This is defined as less than two drinks per day for men and less than one drink for women. You can also prevent alcoholic hepatitis by maintaining a healthy weight and protecting yourself from hepatitis B, and hepatitis C. Hepatitis B and C are bloodborne diseases. They’re transmitted by sharing needles and other equipment for drug use or through somebody’s fluids by having unprotected sex.  Currently, vaccines are only available for hepatitis B, but not for hepatitis C.

Treatment

The primary treatment is to stop consuming alcohol.  Unfortunately, there is no cure for alcoholic hepatitis, but treatment will aim to reduce or eliminate symptoms and halt the progression of the disease. Scarring of the liver is permanent, but the liver can repair some of the damage. Therefore, treatment aims to restore as much normal function to the liver as possible.

  • Dietary Changes:  A doctor may also recommend dietary changes.  Vitamin supplements or a focused diet plan may help correct the balance of nutrients in the body if a person has malnourishment after regular alcohol use.
  • Medication:  Doctors may prescribe medicines including corticosteroids and pentoxifylline to help reduce liver inflammation.
  • Liver Transplant:  In severe cases, a liver transplant may be the only chance for survival. However, the process of finding a donor can be long and complicated. The best hope of recovery is to be aware of the possible signs and symptoms and reduce, manage, or stop alcohol consumption before the condition progresses.

We Level Up Treatment Center provides world-class care with round-the-clock medical professionals available to help you cope. We work as an integrated team providing information about alcoholic hepatitis and other aspects of treatment. Make this your opportunity to reclaim your life. Call today to speak with one of our treatment specialists. 

Our counselors know what you are going through and will answer any of your questions.

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Sources:

[1] American Liver Foundation – http://www.liverfoundation.org/abouttheliver/info/alcohol/

[2] Symptoms and signs of acute alcoholic hepatitis – National Center for Biotechnology Information