What’s to know about alcoholic hepatitis?
Hepatitis is a liver disease that can result from drinking too much alcohol too often.
Alcoholic hepatitis occurs when a person consumes more alcohol than the liver can process.
The liver is the second largest organ in the body. It is on the right side of the torso, under the rib cage.
Its role is to convert food and drink into nutrients that the body can use easily.
The liver also filters poisons and harmful substances — including alcohol — from the blood.
Alcohol can damage and destroy liver cells. The liver breaks down alcohol for removal from the body.
The liver can only process alcohol in small doses. Any excess alcohol circulates throughout the body. Drinking more alcohol than the body can process may cause injury or serious damage to the liver.
Alcohol and the liver
Ethyl alcohol or ethanol is an ingredient in beer, wine, and liquor that causes intoxication. Alcohol affects every organ in the body and the central nervous system.
One of the most common signs of alcoholic hepatitis is jaundice, or yellowing of the skin and eyes.
Additional symptoms include:
loss of appetite
tiredness and weakness
Alcoholic hepatitis can be either mild or severe. It is possible to reverse the condition by ceasing to drink alcohol.
Severe alcoholic hepatitis can occur without warning, leading to life-threatening complications, such as liver failure.
Once the condition becomes severe, symptoms include:
a buildup of fluid in the upper body
confusion and behavior changes
liver and kidney failure
Signs and symptoms vary between people and depend on the severity of the disease. They can also flare up after consuming alcohol.
Causes and risk factors
The main cause of alcoholic hepatitis is heavy drinking over an extended period.
The process of breaking down alcohol in the liver causes inflammation that can destroy liver cells.
Over time, scars begin to replace functional liver tissue in the body. This interferes with how the liver works. Irreversible scarring — or cirrhosis — is the final stage of alcoholic liver disease.
Cirrhosis can quickly progress to liver failure once it develops. A damaged liver can also interfere with blood flow to the kidneys. This can result in damage and kidney failure.
Other factors can contribute to alcoholic hepatitis. People with other types of hepatitis have a higher risk. They should not drink alcohol.
A person with alcoholic hepatitis may experience malnourishment. Drinking significant amounts of alcohol can suppress the appetite. Alcohol may become the main source of calories for an individual.
Malnutrition can also contribute to liver disease.
Other possible risk factors include:
sex, as women may have a higher risk of developing alcoholic hepatitis
race and ethnicity, as African-American and Hispanic people may face a higher risk of developing alcoholic hepatitis
Some people may not show symptoms until the disease has reached a severe stage.
A doctor will:
take a complete medical history
carry out a physical examination
ask the person about their history of alcohol consumption and their drinking habits
Blood tests to determine alcoholic hepatitis include:
liver function studies
cellular blood counts
measuring bleeding times
tests for other chemicals in the body
An ultrasound, CT, or MRI scan of the can show a more detailed view of the liver and any physical damage.
If other tests do not provide a clear answer, the doctor may conduct a liver biopsy.
This involves taking a small tissue sample from the liver using either a needle or through surgery
While it is not possible to cleanse the liver with any specific food or combination of foods, doctors may recommend dietary changes to people with liver disease.
For most people, avoiding very fatty foods and alcohol can reduce the risk of liver disease.
Doctors may offer dietary recommendations to people with specific liver diseases:
Bile duct disease: Use fat substitutes and kernel oil when cooking because the body needs less bile to break it down.
Cirrhosis: Limit salt intake. It may also be necessary to reduce protein intake, but only under the supervision of a doctor.
Fatty liver disease: Eat high-fiber foods and avoid foods that are very high in calories.
Hemochromatosis: Avoid iron-rich foods and iron supplements. Do not eat raw shellfish.
Hepatitis C: Avoid iron-rich foods and iron supplements. Reduce salt intake.
Wilson disease: Limit copper-rich foods, such as mushrooms, chocolate, and nuts.
People with healthy livers do not need to adopt specific diets. Simply eating a balanced, whole food, varied diet and limiting alcohol intake will help preserve liver health.
Other ways to improve liver health
Some simple strategies that can reduce the risk of liver disease and help the liver rid the body of toxins include:
Limiting alcohol intake: Excessive alcohol consumption is a risk factor for liver disease. People with an addiction to alcohol should consider treatment.
Avoiding unnecessary over-the-counter medications: Never exceed the recommended dose, particularly of drugs such as acetaminophen that can harm the liver. Do not mix alcohol and over-the-counter drugs.
Choosing reputable tattoo and piercing salons: Choose a salon that sterilizes their equipment. Unsafe body modifications can transmit hepatitis C.
Getting vaccinated: A person should get vaccinated for hepatitis A and B, and make sure they get appropriate vaccinations before traveling overseas.
Practicing safe sex: This can reduce the risk of transmitting conditions that affect the liver. People should also get tested regularly for sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
Avoiding potentially dangerous chemicals: When painting or using pesticides, wear a mask and ensure the area is well ventilated.
Drinking plenty of water.
Rinsing fruit and vegetables: This can help ensure they are free of pesticides.
Should you try a liver cleanse?
A healthy liver is crucial for maintaining a person’s overall health, but expensive cleanses or diets are just not necessary. In some cases, they may even be dangerous.
A healthy lifestyle, balanced diet, and regular consultations with a doctor are far more valuable to the health of the liver than any fad diet or cleanse.