Alcoholic Hepatitis

1 What is Alcoholic Hepatitis?

Alcoholic hepatitis refers to inflammation and injury of the liver induced by drinking large amounts of alcohol over a long period of time. 

It is more common among people who have been drinking heavily for several years. The disease is potentially serious, and symptoms range from mild to severe.

The mild form of the disease can be completely reversed by stopping the consumption of alcohol. The severe form of alcoholic hepatitis is life-threatening.

Continued drinking, without treating the condition, may lead to cirrhosis of the liver or liver failure.

2 Symptoms

The rapid onset of jaundice is the main symptom of alcoholic hepatitis.

Some other common symptoms of alcoholic hepatitis include nausea and vomiting, low-grade fever, loss of appetite, fatigue and weakness, and weight loss.

The person may also have excessive thirst and dry mouth. Most of the patients are malnourished, as alcohol suppresses hunger.

The severe form of alcoholic hepatitis is characterized by kidney or liver failure, confusion, weight gain, and buildup of fluid within the abdomen.

Some less common symptoms of the liver disease include:

  • Lethargy
  • Changes in stool color
  • Vomiting blood
  • Impaired judgement
  • Changes in short-term and long-term memory
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Hallucinations
  • Agitation
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Fainting

Symptoms usually vary depending on the severity of the condition, and may worsen with recent episodes of drinking.

3 Causes

Liver damage due to alcohol consumption is the cause of alcohol hepatitis.

It usually occurs after several years of heavy drinking. The chances of liver disease increase with excessive consumption and duration of alcohol.

Alcohol reduces appetite and leads to the malabsorption of nutrients. Malnutrition also leads to liver disease.

The breaking down of alcohol in the liver produces toxic chemicals and those chemicals result in inflammation the of liver causing the healthy cells of the liver to be replaced by scars, resulting in cirrhosis.

Risk factors

Other types of hepatitis also increase the chance of alcohol damage. The major risk factor for alcoholic hepatitis is heavy drinking.

It is more common among in women than in men. Obesity, genetics, and binge drinking are other factors that increase the risk of hepatitis.

African-Americans and Hispanics also have a higher risk of developing liver disease with alcohol consumption.

4 Making a Diagnosis

History of alcohol consumption is very important in confirming the diagnosis of Alcoholic hepatitis.

Physical examination aids in diagnosing liver and spleen enlargement.

Common tests used in diagnosis are:

  • Liver function tests – abnormal levels of alkaline phosphatase indicates functioning of liver
  • Complete blood tests – are used to check for anemia and other abnormalities related to jaundice
  • CT scan – helps to rule out other causes of liver disease
  • Ultrasound of the abdomen – this also helps to identify the cause of liver damage
  • A Liver biopsy is recommended to secure the diagnosis, particularly if the results of imaging techniques and tests are not confirmatory.

5 Treatment

Treatment for alcoholic hepatitis focuses on relieving the symptoms of liver damage.

Alcohol cessation is the first step in the treatment of alcoholic hepatitis. This will help to reverse organ damage to a certain extent.

Stopping drinking helps to improve the person's survival rate considerably.

Medications and counseling can help in supporting the effort to stop drinking.

Medications

Liver inflammation is reduced by using medications.

Corticosteroids are used in the case of severe alcoholic hepatitis.

Pentoxifylline is an anti-inflammatory medication suggested in the case of mild symptoms and also in people who do not respond to corticosteroids.

Malnourishment is treated with vitamin and mineral supplements.

Transplants

Liver transplants are suggested for severe forms of liver damage.

Patients recommended for liver transplant are supposed to abstain from drinking for six months.

6 Prevention

Stopping drinking is the best way to prevent alcoholic hepatitis.

For people who need a drink, moderate drinking should always be the rule.

Proper nutrition is very important in preventing liver damage.

One should make sure not to drink more than 14 units of alcohol in a week.

7 Alternative and Homeopathic Remedies

Schisandra is a Chinese herb used to improve the symptoms of liver damage. This herb promotes regeneration of new cells in the organs.

A combination of milk thistle and selenium is used in control of hepatitis.

Some important remedies suggested in homeopathy for controlling liver damage are Chelidonium, Brynoia, podophyllum, carduus mar, and ptelea trifoliate.

Lycopodium, Arsenic, and nux worm are also used in treating hepatitis.

8 Lifestyle and Coping

There are different ways to adapt your lifestyle in coping with alcoholic hepatitis.

Follow-up care is very crucial for resolving the symptoms of alcoholic hepatitis.

Limiting alcohol consumption to moderate levels also helps to prevent further damage to the organ.

9 Risks and Complications

Some of the common complications noted with alcoholic hepatitis include:

  • High blood pressure
  • Fluid accumulation in the abdomen
  • Jaundice
  • Confusion
  • Cirrhosis
  • Kidney failure
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