Alcoholic hepatitis

Alcoholic hepatitis is a progressive inflammatory disease of the liver associated with long-term excessive consumption of alcohol. Alcoholic hepatitis is an acute form and early stage of the alcoholic liver disease. It involves a spectrum of severity ranging from minor and reversible liver disease to fatal and irreversible liver failure.

The liver is the largest organ, and it removes toxic substances from the blood. The alcohol abuse reduces the ability of the liver to rejuvenate itself and leads to irreparable destruction.

The onset of symptoms depends on the extent of the liver damage. If there is a mild liver damage, then you may not have any symptoms. However, you may experience the following symptoms if the liver damage is severe.

  • Jaundice
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Fever
  • Confusion
  • Loss of appetite
  • Tiredness
  • Abdominal pain and swelling
  • Weight loss
  • Excessive thirst and dry mouth

When the alcohol is metabolized in the liver, it releases the toxic substances. These toxic chemicals result in the liver damage which ultimately leads to inflammation and alcoholic hepatitis. Consuming alcohol isn’t only the cause of alcoholic hepatitis; there are other factors affecting the liver function. These include the following:

  • Malnutrition
  • Genetic factors that affects the alcohol metabolism
  • Medical history of other liver diseases such as hepatitis C

The risk factors for alcoholic hepatitis are listed below:

  • Alcohol consumption: The primary risk factor for alcoholic hepatitis is the amount of alcohol intake. A study shows that 60 to 80 grams of alcohol intake per day increases the risk of cirrhosis in men and 20 grams of alcohol intake per day increases the risk for women.
  • Gender: Women are at higher risk of developing alcoholic hepatitis when compared to men. This is because the difference in the processing of alcohol in men and women.
  • Other risk factors include obesity, binge drinking, and also African-American or Hispanic ethnicity.

Alcoholic hepatitis may cause various complications and include the following:

  • Increased blood pressure in the portal vein
  • Enlarged veins
  • Severe jaundice
  • Fluid retention
  • Hepatic encephalopathy
  • Cirrhosis
  • Kidney failure
  • Ascites

Your doctor begins the diagnosis with physical examination and a review of medical history including questions about alcohol consumption. Certain tests are recommended to confirm the diagnosis:

  • Blood tests that include liver function tests, blood cell counts, bleeding time, and electrolyte tests. The liver function tests determine the levels of liver enzymes that can be abnormal if there is alcoholic hepatitis.
  • Ultrasound of abdomen is recommended to view the internal structures and identify the abnormality.
  • Computed tomography (CT) scan and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) provides a detailed imaging of internal organs of the body.
  • Liver biopsy: A small sample of liver tissue is removed to test under the microscope, and the purpose is to determine the type of liver disease.

The main aim of the alcoholic liver disease treatment is to restore the normal functioning of the liver and relieve the symptoms. The alcoholic hepatitis treatment involves the following:

  • Stop alcohol consumption: If you are diagnosed with alcoholic hepatitis, you must withdraw alcohol consumption completely. Your doctor may suggest an alcohol rehabilitation program or counseling and other supportive treatment to help prevent withdrawal symptoms.
  • Treatment for malnutrition: Your doctor may recommend vitamin and nutrient supplements to rectify nutritional problems that contribute to liver disease.
  • Drugs to reduce inflammation of the liver: Your doctor may prescribe drugs if you are diagnosed with severe alcoholic hepatitis. These include corticosteroids and pentoxifylline.
  • Liver transplantation: If you have severe alcoholic hepatitis that cannot be reversed, your doctor may suggest liver transplantation.

The following strategies may help to prevent and reduce the risk of alcoholic hepatitis:

  • Consume alcohol moderately or avoid completely.
  • Maintain a proper diet that includes adequate vitamin and mineral supplements.
  • Protect yourself against hepatitis C.