What Is Alcoholic Hepatitis? Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

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What Is Alcoholic Hepatitis?


Alcohol is a leading cause of liver disease, and alcoholic hepatitis is a stage of liver disease caused by excessive alcohol consumption. Alcohol-related liver disease refers to a spectrum of illnesses that include fatty liver disease, alcoholic hepatitis, and cirrhosis.

Heavy drinking can lead to a host of issues with the liver, many of which can be life-threatening. The liver is responsible for filtering toxins from the bloodstream and is the body’s largest organ. When an individual’s liver has been compromised by alcoholic hepatitis, the organ becomes fatty, inflamed, and unable to properly filter the blood.

What Causes Alcoholic Hepatitis?

Alcoholic hepatitis is caused by alcoholic liver disease, a condition which causes the liver to become inflamed and weakened due to heavy drinking. The liver disease rate of progression can vary, depending on the amount of alcohol consumption and whether alcohol is consumed alone or with food.

Contrary to popular belief, any alcoholic beverage can cause liver damage (even wine and beer). When an individual drinks an alcoholic beverage, their liver works to break down and filter the blood. During this process, highly toxic substances are produced, which results in inflammation and damage to the liver cells.

Alcoholic Hepatitis Risk Factors

When someone drinks large amounts of alcohol over a long period of time, their liver becomes irreversibly scarred, called cirrhosis. While the main cause of alcoholic hepatitis is excessive alcohol use, there are several additional risk factors to be aware of.

Some of the additional risk factors for developing alcoholic hepatitis include:

  • gender: Although alcohol use disorders affect nearly twice as many men as women, women have a higher risk of developing alcoholic hepatitis, due to variations in the way men’s and women’s bodies process alcohol.
  • genetics: Some research studies indicate that certain individuals’ genes may be a factor in developing alcohol-related liver disease.
  • weight and body mass index: People who struggle with alcohol abuse and are also overweight may be more likely to develop alcoholic hepatitis and cirrhosis.
  • ethnicity and race: Medical research shows a higher prevalence of severe alcoholic hepatitis in Hispanic and White/Caucasian individuals.

Symptoms Of Alcoholic Hepatitis

It’s important to understand the signs and symptoms of alcoholic hepatitis and other alcohol-related liver conditions. Many of these illnesses get worse over time, but can be treated and reversed if caught early enough.

Some of the symptoms of alcoholic hepatitis include:

  • yellow-tinted skin and yellowed whites of eyes (jaundice)
  • abdominal tenderness
  • poor appetite
  • fever
  • fatigue
  • weakness
  • nausea
  • malnourishment
  • vomiting
  • weight loss

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If you or someone you know experiences any of the following severe symptoms of alcoholic hepatitis, call 911 immediately:

  • abdominal swelling (ascites)
  • erratic behavior or changes in behavior (due to the buildup of toxins)
  • confusion
  • tar-like stools
  • fever combined with shakiness

Diagnosis And Treatment Of Alcoholic Hepatitis

Alcohol is consumed in most countries, and is a leading cause of liver disease worldwide. Each year, alcohol is responsible for more than 2.5 million deaths worldwide, many of which are due to alcoholic hepatitis. In the U.S., an estimated 88,000 people die from alcohol-related causes each year, making alcohol the third-leading preventable cause of death in our country.

If you or someone you love is showing any signs or symptoms of alcoholic hepatitis, contact a healthcare provider immediately. Many of the long-term health hazards can be reduced and avoided if treatment is sought early on.

Alcohol-Related Deaths in US each year

To diagnose alcoholic hepatitis, a physician will likely have a conversation with the patient about their drinking habits. It’s important for patients to be honest about alcohol use, including information about the age you began drinking, type of alcohol consumed, and how often you drink.

Sometimes, healthcare professionals draw blood in order to check for elevated levels of liver enzymes. If a physical exam is performed, doctors may check for signs of fever, abdominal tenderness, and jaundice.

Treatment For Alcohol Dependence

When an individual is diagnosed with alcoholic hepatitis, their doctor may suggest they quit drinking alcohol. In mild cases of alcoholic hepatitis, stopping alcohol use can reverse the damage to the liver.

Many people find it difficult to stop drinking on their own, especially if they experience painful alcohol withdrawal symptoms. Fortunately, effective treatment for alcohol abuse and addiction exists, including life-saving detox programs.

In order to provide hope to those suffering from alcohol dependence, it’s helpful to understand the different types of treatment available. Inpatient treatment is the highest level of care, where patients temporarily reside on-site. This treatment environment provides individuals the opportunity to detox from alcohol in a safe environment.

Outpatient treatment can be in the form of partial hospitalization programs (PHPs) or intensive outpatient programs (IOPs). These addiction treatment facilities offer alcohol addiction treatment on a more flexible schedule. Because these programs are not as secure as residential addiction treatment, it’s recommended that those who attend have a strong support network and low chance of relapse.

Many alcohol addiction treatment centers will provide medication-assisted treatment, in order to help the newly sober feel as comfortable as possible. Medications such as naltrexone (Vivitrol) have been shown to reduce alcohol cravings and help to prevent relapse.

There is help available for those suffering from alcohol abuse and addiction. To learn more about alcoholic hepatitis and treatment options available, reach out to one of our specialists today.

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