Alcoholic hepatitis

Medical quality assurance by Dr. Albrecht Nonnenmacher, MD at January 9, 2016
StartDiseasesAlcoholic hepatitis

Alcoholic hepatitis is the inflammation of the liver caused by excessive consumption of alcohol over an extended period. It is advisable to stop drinking alcohol once a person develops this problem since it may lead to significant health problems.


Definition & Facts

Though alcoholic hepatitis only develops in a small percentage of heavy drinkers, around seven in ten people who have an alcoholic liver disease such as alcoholic hepatitis are dependent on alcohol. in addition, moderate drinkers are also at risk for developing this condition. It is possible to recover from alcoholic hepatitis if damage is in its early stages and one quits drinking completely; otherwise, the condition may worsen and become cirrhosis in which the damage done to the liver is irreversible.

Symptoms & Complaints

The symptoms of alcoholic hepatitis vary depending on the amount of harm to the liver. In the early stages, symptoms include nausea, a decrease in appetite, vomiting, stomach discomfort, fever, sudden weight gain, dry mouth and thirst, abdominal pains, and yellow appearance of the skin or eyes also called jaundice.

In its end stages, alcoholic hepatitis may result in severe injury to the liver which is called cirrhosis. Patients with severe symptoms of cirrhosis will experience not only jaundice but also vomiting blood, weakness and loss of appetite, itchiness, easy bruising, swelling of the legs, ankles, and or abdomen, stomach bleeding and increased sensitivity to alcohol and drugs. Multi-organ non-liver conditions may accompany alcoholic hepatitis and cirrhosis.


Alcoholic hepatitis occurs when the alcohol that is being processed in the liver produces highly toxic chemicals, leading to inflammation and cell damage. Doctors have linked alcoholic hepatitis with oxidative stress in which the liver gets overworked by trying to break down alcohol.

Aside from excessive drinking, other risk factors include being overweight or obese, genetics, and simultaneously having hepatitis C. Sex also plays a role as females are at a higher risk than men because women attain higher levels of blood alcohol content than men regardless of ingesting the same amounts of alcohol. Another risk factor is malnutrition which prevents proper nutrient absorption. Drinking outside of meal times and binge drinking also increase the risk of getting this disease.

Diagnosis & Tests

The diagnostic process begins with doctors asking their patients about their health history and alcohol consumption. Physical examinations to detect an enlarged liver or spleen may be conducted.

Blood tests can also be administered to test for low levels of certain substances, such as serum albumin, a protein which is made by the liver. Low levels of albumin could suggest liver disease and other serious conditions. Blood tests can also offer signs of abnormal blood clotting, a symptom of liver disease.

Other tests for alcoholic hepatitis may be endoscopic. An endoscope is a long, thin, and flexible tube with a light and video camera at one end. During endoscopy, the gadget is passed down the esophagus and into the stomach, and images of the stomach and the gut are transmitted to a visual display screen. The doctor then looks for swollen veins that are signs of cirrhosis.

Other diagnostic tests include a complete blood count, liver function test, CT scan (computed tomography), and ultrasound of the liver.

When the above tests don't offer conclusive confirmation, the doctor may order a biopsy that requires the removal and examination of a tissue sample from the liver.

Treatment & Treatment

Upon receiving an alcoholic hepatitis diagnosis, one needs to stop drinking immediately. If the alcoholic hepatitis is in its early stages, the patient may be able to reverse the damage to the liver by avoiding alcohol.

When the damage to the liver is severe, one needs to not only stop drinking but also seek help to prevent further damage to the liver. Doctors may prescribe medication that reduces the inflammation in the liver to improve its function as well as vitamin supplements and nutrient supplements.

In the most severe cases, the liver might be so damaged that a liver transplant is necessary. Doctors may also recommend tube feeding in which a unique nutrient-rich liquid diet is given through a tube passed through the esophagus into the stomach.

Prevention & Prophylaxis

Avoiding alcohol or drinking in moderation are the best ways to prevent alcoholic hepatitis. Though limits of alcohol consumption vary from person to person, some doctors suggest a daily limit of one drink for women and two drinks for men.

Refraining from mixing alcohol and drugs may also limit the risk of developing alcoholic hepatitis. Some medications like acetaminophen react with alcohol and can damage the liver.

Intaking proper nutrition is also crucial; therefore maintaining a healthy balanced diet may prevent alcoholic hepatitis.

Avoiding risk factors for other liver diseases that cause or worsen alcoholic hepatitis is important. Because hepatitis C is a viral disease that is possible to contract through unsafe sex, safe sex practices should be undertaken. When traveling to areas with high rates of hepatitis B, vaccinations will boost the immune system to give it more ready-made defender proteins called antibodies.