There is a type of hepatitis that is not caused by a viral infection. This is known as alcoholic hepatitis and is a severe inflammation of the liver that stems from drinking over a long time period. You don’t have to drink heavily and some people who only drink moderately can even develop this condition. When it occurs, doctors will advise you to stop drinking alcohol completely. If drinking alcohol continues, the liver can become severely damaged and death from liver failure can occur.
Symptoms of Alcoholic Hepatitis
Alcoholic hepatitis symptoms are very similar to viral hepatitis symptoms. There tends to be an onset of jaundice, which is yellow eyes and skin. Fluid accumulates in the abdominal girth. Other symptoms that may occur include:
- Unexplained loss of weight
- Pain in the abdomen
- Not feeling hungry
- Some may have mild fever
Because alcohol contains calories and carbohydrates, drinkers tend to eat less food and become malnourished.
- Ascites – this is when fluid collects in the peritoneal space in the abdomen
- Confusion – increased ammonia levels cause changes in the brain
- Behavior changes
- Liver failure
- Kidney failure
Since the liver and kidneys both filter out toxins from the body, when the liver fails it makes the kidneys have to work harder to filter toxins. This puts undue strain on the kidneys. This can result in a need for dialysis.
When Should You Contact Your Doctor
If you have symptoms of alcohol induced hepatitis, you need to understand this disease can be very serious. Around 35 percent of people who drink alcohol heavily can develop alcoholic hepatitis and over one-third of these people die within six months of the appearance of the symptoms. As soon as symptoms appear, contact your doctor for help. This is especially important if you are having trouble cutting back on alcohol.
Causes of Alcoholic Hepatitis
The liver is a filter and the breakdown of alcohol can be highly toxic. This can cause the liver to become inflamed (hepa = liver and itis = inflammation), which leads to scarring. One question raised among researchers is why only a minimal number of heavy drinkers get alcoholic hepatitis, but even a small number of very moderate drinkers also acquire this disease.
It is believed that other factors greatly influence this such as:
- Whether you are male or female. It seems that there is a higher percentage of women with this disease. Male livers break down alcohol differently than women.
- Co-existing diseases that affect the liver like; fatty liver disease, hepatitis C
- Genetics greatly influence the breakdown of alcohol in the body
- Auto-immune disease
One thing they do know is that the disease is progressive and usually develops with long-term alcohol use over a period of time.
Treatments for Alcoholic Hepatitis
- Quit drinking completely
As soon as you suspect you may have liver trouble, you should try to cut down and quit drinking altogether. If you are diagnosed with alcoholic hepatitis, your doctor will recommend that you quit drinking immediately. Quitting can prevent anymore liver damage. The doctor can give you programs that can help you quit.
- Take medications
If you are in the mild early stages of the disease, quitting drinking alone may be enough to help your liver heal on its own. The doctor may have you take supplements likethiamin, vitamin K and a good multivitamin. If you have a more severe case, you may need steroids to help decrease the inflammation in your liver.
- Increase nutrition
Malnourishment is one major symptom of alcoholic hepatitis. The doctor may want to treat severe lack of nutrition by giving you feedings via a feeding tube directly into your stomach. This will help your body absorb the vitamins and nutrients you need to become healthy again. You may also need to take extra vitamin supplements through the feeding tube or through an IV.
- Surgical intervention
If your liver damage is too severe, you may need a liver transplant. In order to get on a transplant registry you will need to be free from any drinking for at least six months. You will work with a transplant coordinator and possibly go through counseling. They will check you periodically while on the registry to make sure you are not drinking.
- Treat any withdrawal symptoms
Many people have the tendency to relapse and go back to drinking. This is usually because withdrawal symptoms are too severe to tolerate. Your doctor can prescribe you a benzodiazepine and certain therapists can help you learn cognitive behavioral techniques to relieve discomfort.
- Join a support group
Alcoholics Anonymous is a nationally recognized support group for people who want to quit drinking alcohol for good. The program assigns you a sponsor that you check in with and you attend meetings every week or more often if needed. They often have a “clubhouse” where you can play pool, socialize and offer non-alcoholic beverages.
Preventions for Alcoholic Hepatitis
You can lower the risk for getting alcoholic hepatitis by doing the following:
- Reduce alcohol consumption
It is best not to drink if you are at higher risk for this disease. If you do want to drink, keep it to one drink daily for women and two drinks daily for men. One drink consists of; 12 oz. beer, 5 oz. wine, 1.5 oz. hard liquor.
- Watch your medications with alcohol use
Some medications like acetaminophen can increase the risk of liver damage, it is even worse when mixed with alcohol. Check with your doctor before using acetaminophen for pain or fever.
- Try not to acquire hepatitis C
This virus causes a viral liver infection that damages the liver. Drinking alcohol with hepatitis C can cause worse scarring and damage. Avoid any exposure to this virus byusing condoms during sex, do not share needles, and do not share personal items with others that could be contaminated with blood.
The video below gives a clear presentation of the causes, symptoms and treatment plans of Alcoholic Hepatitis: