Alcoholic Hepatitis | Digestive Health Program | Loyola Medicine

Alcoholic Hepatitis

Overview and Facts about Alcoholic Hepatitis

Alcoholic hepatitis is a serious condition that leads to liver inflammation caused by excessive alcohol consumption over a long period of time. While the condition is most common among heavy drinkers, not all heavy drinkers develop alcoholic hepatitis and some of those who do develop the condition only drink moderately. Binge drinking may also lead to the disease.

If you develop alcoholic hepatitis, you must stop drinking or you will risk serious health problems like cirrhosis, liver failure, and death.

Signs and Symptoms of Alcoholic Hepatitis

Alcoholic hepatitis has a variety of signs and symptoms. Many people with this condition are malnourished, as alcohol suppresses your appetite. Other signs and symptoms include:

  • Abdominal fluid retention
  • Abdominal tenderness
  • Confusion
  • Fatigue and weakness
  • Jaundice (yellowing of the eyes and skin)
  • Loss of appetite
  • Low-grade fever
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Weight loss

Causes and Risk Factors of Alcoholic Hepatitis

Alcoholic hepatitis results from drinking too much alcohol. Most people with the condition are heavy drinkers.

Alcohol seriously damages the liver. When the body breaks down alcohol, it produces toxic chemicals that trigger inflammation in the liver and destroys its cells. This liver damage causes irreversible scarring, a condition called cirrhosis, and results in liver failure.

Certain risk factors can make alcoholic hepatitis more likely to develop, including drinking when you have other types of hepatitis and undernourishment.

It's unknown why, but some people are more likely to develop alcoholic hepatitis, including:

  • African-Americans and Hispanics
  • People who are obese
  • Those who binge drink
  • Women

Tests and Diagnosis of Alcoholic Hepatitis

If your doctor thinks you may have alcoholic hepatitis, a physical exam is performed to detect an enlarged liver or spleen. Your doctor may also request certain tests and screenings, including:

  • Abdominal CT scan
  • Blood clotting tests
  • Complete blood count (CBC)
  • Liver biopsy
  • Liver function test
  • Ultrasound of your liver

Treatment and Care for Alcoholic Hepatitis

Alcoholic hepatitis has no cure, but you can manage its symptoms and slow, or even halt, its progression. If you catch the disease in its earliest stages, you may even reverse some of the damage done to your liver. Regardless of the stage of your alcoholic hepatitis, you must stop drinking. Alcoholic hepatitis symptoms continue to worsen when you drink.

Your doctor may recommend starting a vitamin and nutrient supplement program, or IV infusions. In extreme cases, they may suggest a feeding tube if you struggle to eat.

To control liver inflammation and improve liver function, your doctor may prescribe certain medications like corticosteroids or an anti-inflammatory. When liver damage becomes severe, you may be a candidate for a liver transplant, but must prove that you can stop drinking for good. After a period of sobriety, you may be placed on a transplant list if you show determination and dedication to remaining sober both before and after your transplant.