What is Alcohol-Related Hepatitis?
Hepatitis is inflammation of the liver that can have many causes. When this inflammation is caused by long-term alcohol use, it is called alcohol-related hepatitis.
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Untreated, any type of hepatitis can cause lasting damage to your liver and lead to life-threatening complications, including liver failure. Women are at higher risk of developing alcohol-related hepatitis, perhaps due to differences in how men and women process alcohol.
When the liver processes alcohol, it produces highly toxic chemicals that damage liver cells. Over time, this damage leads to inflammation and, in some people, can result in alcohol-related hepatitis. Doctors don’t really understand why alcohol-related hepatitis develops in some people who drink heavily and not others, or why it sometimes occurs in people who only use alcohol in moderation.
It is believed that other factors may influence who does and who doesn’t develop this condition. These factors include:
- Genetic factors that affect how the body processes alcohol
- Presence of other liver disorders including viral hepatitis and hemochromatosis
What are the Symptoms of Alcohol-Related Hepatitis?
Alcoholic hepatitis can be mild, moderate or severe. In cases of advanced disease, symptoms can be severe and appear suddenly. The symptoms may include:
- Abdominal pain
- Ascites (fluid buildup in the belly)
- Clay-colored stools and diarrhea
- Fever or chills
- Weight loss
- Yellowing of the skin and eyes (jaundice)
Treating Alcohol-Related Hepatitis
Once a person is confirmed to have alcohol-related hepatitis through a variety of diagnostic tests and a thorough medical and family history, your doctor may recommend the following:
- Alcohol cessation – with mild to moderate disease, it may be possible to reverse the disease process by stopping all alcohol consumption
- Steroid medications to help reduce liver inflammation
- Nutrition counseling
- Improved hydration
If the disease has progressed and led to advanced liver disease such as cirrhosis or liver failure, liver transplantation may be the only treatment option. Only those who have stopped drinking altogether will be considered for transplant and structured recovery services may be needed. This is often a pre-requisite to surgery and other procedures to treat any alcohol-associated liver disease. UH can help patients find inpatient and outpatient programs to help them quit drinking for good.