Alcoholic hepatitis is a liver disease characterized by inflammation of tissues of the liver as a result of prolonged consumption of alcohol. Continuous drinking of alcohol will worsen the condition. For instance, it can lead to the development of excessive bleeding, cirrhosis, and ultimately liver failure.
What causes alcoholic hepatitis?
Alcohol is processed in the liver. During the process when the liver breaks alcohol down, toxic chemicals are produced. It’s actually not the alcohol that is harmful to the liver but the toxic chemicals that are produced when it is eventually broken down. The liver cells will be injured and inflamed by the chemicals.
Although heavy consumption of alcohol is responsible for alcoholic hepatitis, doctors seem not to be really sure of what actually makes the condition develop. But it has been found that both moderate and heavy drinkers of alcohol can develop the condition. About 35% of people who drink heavily will likely have alcoholic hepatitis according to the American Liver Foundation.
What are possible risk factors for alcoholic hepatitis?
Aside from the
- genetic factors
- liver infections i.e. hemochromatosis, hepatitis B, and hepatitis C
- when alcohol is drunk on an empty stomach
N/B: Drinking while eating can lower the risk of alcoholic hepatitis. Women will readily develop alcoholic hepatitis when compared to men. This can be attributed to how alcohol is processed and absorbed in their body.
What are the symptoms of alcoholic hepatitis?
The damage done by inflammation on the liver determines the severity of the symptoms. You might not experience a symptom if the inflammation is mild.
The more the damage, the more the symptoms:
- changes in appetite
- dry mouth
- abdominal pain
- abdominal swelling
- jaundice i.e. yellowing of the eyes and skin
- weight loss
- easy bleeding
Most health issues share similar symptoms. You should therefore not conclude that you have alcoholic hepatitis until you have been confirmed so by your doctor.
How is alcoholic hepatitis diagnosed?
When you start experiencing any of the symptoms that have been listed above, see your doctor at once. Upon seeing your doctor, you will be asked certain questions about your alcohol use and other questions that relate to your health history. A physical examination will form part of your assessment in order to find out the state of your liver and spleen. Other tests can also be ordered on you in order to ascertain how much damage has been done to your liver. These tests include:
- ultrasound of the liver
- complete blood count (CBC)
- blood clotting tests
- liver function test
- abdominal CT scan
- liver biopsy
Treatment options for alcoholic hepatitis
Alcoholic hepatitis is primarily caused by excessive and prolonged alcohol consumption.
The first thing you will have to do will be to stop drinking. If you reported at the hospital when the damage to your liver is still mild, the condition can be reversed. But when the reverse is the case, your liver damage can be permanent i.e. irreversible. Severe alcoholic hepatitis is marked by liver cirrhosis, blood clotting anomalies, and high bilirubin levels in the blood.
Going ahead to still drink alcohol upon diagnosis with the severe form of alcoholic hepatitis can further worsen the damage.
You can lengthen your lifespan by 30% if you discontinue drinking when you have been diagnosed with permanent liver damage.
There are various treatment options, facilities, and programs that can help you overcome your addiction to alcohol.
Your doctor will recommend some for you.
Medications that can work on your symptoms and help you feel better will be included in whatever treatment option the doctor will be recommending for you. They will also help your liver to improve in their functions.
Vitamin and nutrient supplements are other dimensions of the treatment you will be receiving. You will need these supplements so as to help you feed well and overcome malnourishment.
If you are finding it difficult to eat, you will be fed from a feeding tube. The vitamins and supplements will be included in the feeding tube.
If your liver has been severely destroyed, a liver transplant will be non-negotiable.
You will have to agree that you won’t go back to drinking before a new liver will be transplanted into you. Also, you will have to stay away from drinking 6 months to the scheduled time for the liver transplant. Ensure you seek counseling when necessary.
How can you prevent alcoholic hepatitis?
Absolute abstinence from alcohol consumption is the best way to prevent alcoholic hepatitis.
If you must drink alcohol, you must take just a drink per day if you are a man and half a drink per day if you are a woman.
If you can maintain your weight and protect yourself from anything that can cause either hepatitis C and B from developing, you are likely going to be far from having alcoholic hepatitis.
If you also reduce your risk of developing any blood-borne disease, you will reduce your susceptibility to having alcoholic hepatitis. You can do this by not engaging in unprotected sexual intercourse, or not sharing instruments that can pierce your body with others.
There are vaccines for hepatitis. But hepatitis C is yet to have a vaccine.
Long-term outlook for alcoholic hepatitis
If you stop drinking, your outlook might be fine. If your liver has not been severely damaged, that will be a good one, too.
The severity of your symptoms will also affect your outlook.
What are the possible complications of alcoholic hepatitis?
The chances of recovery will be slim if you keep drinking despite the fact that you have been seriously affected by liver inflammation. Hepatic encephalopathy, coma, anemia, cirrhosis, bleeding, and liver failure are the likely complications that can arise from severe alcoholic hepatitis.
Diet and exercise
What nutrition advice can be provided to one who is trying to recover from alcoholic hepatitis?
The nutrition advice that can be given to such a person will be informed by the laboratory results.
On a general note, the person might have to have a magnesium replacement if the result reveals the presence of deficient serum magnesium.
Vitamins like folic acid, thiamine, and multivitamins will be needed by someone that is recovering from alcoholic hepatitis.
Healthy meals thrice a day and ensuring the body is well-hydrated will really be commendable.
Tonika Bruce, MSN, RN, MBA. is an accomplished nurse leader, published author, and personal development expert passionate about advancing healthcare management and quality patient outcomes.
She taps into the years of experience in healthcare management to produce credible and easy-to-understand health and leadership content. Her exceptional work has been featured in reputable publications, including Forbes, Recruiter, Inc, and the Color of Wellness magazine.