Alcoholic Hepatitis

What is Alcoholic Hepatitis?

Alcoholic Hepatitis occurs when the liver becomes inflamed and is caused by the consumption of an inordinate amount of alcohol over a long period of time.  It is usually found in association with fatty liver which is an early stage of alcoholic liver disease which could lead to cirrhosis.

Alcoholic Hepatitis usually appears in people from 40 to 60 years of age and affects more men than women.

What are the Symptoms of Alcoholic Hepatitis?

Alcoholic hepatitis often leads sufferers to be malnourished since highly caloric alcohol beverages heavily reduces appetite and this can cause ascites (accretion of fluids in the abdomen) and in severe cases, also kidney failure. Malnutrition accelerates liver cell damage.

Cirrhosis and liver failure can be fatal consequences of alcoholic hepatitis.

Symptoms include

Symptoms include ascites (the accumulation of fluid within the abdominal cavity), jaundice, changes in appetite, dry mouth, encephalopathy (brain dysfunction caused by liver failure), liver enlargement, elevation of liver enzyme levels, and weight loss.

Severe Alcoholic Hepatitis is marked by the appearance of obtundation (impaired consciousness) or a combination of prolonged prothrombin time and elevated levels of bilirubin.  About 50% of those with severe Alcoholic Hepatitis die within 30 days from the appearance of the disease.

Alcoholic Hepatitis Causes

The primary cause of alcoholic hepatitis is usually excessive alcohol consumption. When alcohol is processed in the liver, it produces highly toxic chemicals that can cause extreme inflammation of the liver and damage to liver cells. Eventually, this damage causes scar tissue known as cirrhosis, which is permanent and results in the organ being unable to function correctly.

In some cases, alcoholic hepatitis occurs in individuals who only consume moderate amounts of alcohol. Furthermore, the condition doesn’t necessarily occur in all heavy drinkers. It is thought, therefore, that there are other factors which cause it.

Genetic factors are known to influence the way the body processes alcohol and, therefore, the likelihood of an individual developing alcoholic hepatitis. Experts also know that women are twice as likely as men to get alcoholic hepatitis, due to differences in the way men and women absorb and process alcohol in the body.

Secondly, individuals with other disorders of the liver, such as hepatitis C, are more likely to develop the condition. Thirdly, individuals who are malnourished are at an increased risk of alcoholic hepatitis. Finally, it is known that drinking alcohol outside of meal times can make an individual three times more likely to develop the condition.

How is Alcoholic Hepatitis Treated?

In most cases Alcoholic Hepatitis is mild and no treatment is necessary.

Treatment includes

Individuals with a severe case of Alcoholic Hepatitis must stop the consumption of alcohol immediately and 40 mg per day of the medication prednisolone (a glucocorticosteroid) for four weeks is also recommended to suppress inflammation, reduce damage to the liver, and assist hepatic regeneration.

It’s also important for the individual to eat nutritious food in order to add much needed vitamins and minerals to their diet.

If liver damage is irreversible, the only chance of survival is a transplant.

Alcoholic Hepatitis Prevention

The most crucial way to avoid alcoholic hepatitis is to consume alcohol in moderation. This is up to one alcoholic drink a day for women, and two for men. It’s also wise to consume alcoholic beverages with a meal. However, to completely alleviate the risk, individuals should avoid all alcohol.

Since hepatitis C can increase the risk of alcoholic hepatitis, individuals who have already been diagnosed with hepatitis C should be particularly careful to drink in moderation. Those who do not have hepatitis C can reduce the risk of being infected with it in future by using condoms during sex and avoiding the use of shared needles, including in tattoo and body piercing parlors.

Finally, individuals who are taking prescription or over the counter medications, particularly pain relievers, should check for warnings about combining them with alcohol. Some medications can cause negative reactions with alcohol which could lead to liver damage.

Last Reviewed:
October 09, 2016
Last Updated:
June 25, 2018