Drinking heavily over years can cause inflammation of the liver. If you have alcoholic hepatitis, you must stop drinking.
Alcoholic hepatitis is inflammation of the liver caused by drinking alcohol.
Alcoholic hepatitis is most likely to occur in people who drink heavily over many years. However, the relationship between drinking and alcoholic hepatitis is complex. Not all heavy drinkers develop alcoholic hepatitis, and the disease can occur in people who drink only moderately.
If you're diagnosed with alcoholic hepatitis, you must stop drinking alcohol. People who continue to drink alcohol face a high risk of serious liver damage and death.
The liver is your largest internal organ. About the size of a football, it's located mainly in the upper right portion of your abdomen, beneath the diaphragm and above your stomach.
The most common sign of alcoholic hepatitis is yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes (jaundice).
Other signs and symptoms include:
Malnutrition is common in people with alcoholic hepatitis. Drinking large amounts of alcohol suppresses the appetite, and heavy drinkers get most of their calories from alcohol.
Additional signs and symptoms that occur with severe alcoholic hepatitis include:
Alcoholic hepatitis is a serious, often deadly disease.
See your doctor if you:
Alcoholic hepatitis develops when the alcohol you drink damages your liver. Just how alcohol damages the liver — and why it does so only in some heavy drinkers — isn't clear.
These factors are known to play a role in alcoholic hepatitis:
Other factors that can contribute to alcoholic hepatitis include:
The major risk factor for alcoholic hepatitis is the amount of alcohol you consume. How much alcohol it takes to put you at risk of alcoholic hepatitis isn't known. But most people with the condition have a history of drinking more than 3.5 ounces (100 grams) — equivalent to seven glasses of wine, seven beers or seven shots of spirits — daily for at least 20 years.
However, alcoholic hepatitis can occur among those who drink less and have other risk factors.
Other risk factors include:
Complications of alcoholic hepatitis, which result from severe liver damage, relate to scar tissue. Scar tissue can slow blood flow through your liver, increasing pressure in a major blood vessel (portal vein), and the buildup of toxins. Complications include:
Esophageal varices are enlarged veins in the esophagus. They're often due to blocked blood flow through the portal vein. The portal vein carries blood from the intestine, pancreas and spleen to the liver.
You might reduce your risk of alcoholic hepatitis if you:
Your doctor will conduct a physical examination and ask about your current and past alcohol use. It's important to be honest about your drinking habits. Your doctor might ask your permission to interview family members about your drinking.
To test for liver disease, your doctor might recommend:
A liver biopsy is a procedure to remove a small sample of liver tissue for laboratory testing. Liver biopsy is commonly performed by inserting a thin needle through your skin and into your liver.
Treatment for alcoholic hepatitis involves quitting drinking and therapies to ease the signs and symptoms of liver damage.
If you've been diagnosed with alcoholic hepatitis, you must stop drinking alcohol and never drink alcohol again. It's the only way to possibly reverse liver damage or prevent the disease from worsening. People who don't stop drinking are likely to develop a variety of life-threatening health problems.
If you are dependent on alcohol and want to stop drinking, your doctor can recommend a therapy that's tailored for your needs. It can be dangerous to stop drinking suddenly so if you're dependent, be sure to discuss a plan with your doctor.
Treatment might include:
Your doctor might recommend a special diet to correct nutritional problems. You might be referred to a dietitian who can suggest ways to increase your consumption of the vitamins and nutrients you lack.
If you have trouble eating, your doctor might recommend tube feeding. A tube is passed down your throat or through your side and into your stomach. A special nutrient-rich liquid diet is then passed through the tube.
If you have severe alcoholic hepatitis, your doctor might recommend:
For many people with severe alcoholic hepatitis, the risk of death is high without a liver transplant.
Historically, those with alcoholic hepatitis have not been liver transplant candidates because of the risk that they will return to harmful drinking after transplant. Recent studies, however, suggest that carefully selected patients with severe alcoholic hepatitis have post-transplant survival rates similar to those of liver transplant recipients with other types of liver disease.
For transplant to be an option, you would need:
You might be referred to a digestive disease specialist (gastroenterologist).
When you make the appointment, ask about restrictions, such as restricting your diet for certain tests.
Make a list of:
Have a relative or friend accompany you, if possible, to help you remember the information you're given.
Don't hesitate to ask other questions.
Your doctor is likely to ask you questions, including: