Alcoholic hepatitis is a type of chronic liver inflammation that results from excessive alcohol consumption, usually a product of heavy drinking over the course of many years. A person who has a mild or early form of the condition may not experience any physical symptoms, but abdominal pain, fever, and jaundice set in as inflammation worsens. Untreated alcoholic hepatitis can cause permanent liver tissue scarring and eventual liver failure. Most cases of alcoholic hepatitis can be reversed by completely abstaining from alcohol, but an advanced problem may necessitate a liver transplant.
Alcohol is toxic to the body, but a healthy liver can effectively remove and expel dangerous toxins before they cause problems. Large quantities of alcohol and frequent bouts of drinking can overwhelm the livers of some people, leading to irritation and eventually to hepatitis. The fact that only some heavy drinkers acquire hepatitis is not well understood by doctors, but most professionals believe that genetic mutations and malnutrition significantly contribute to the disorder. Many studies suggest that women are more susceptible to alcoholic cirrhosis than men due to slower metabolisms and generally smaller liver sizes.
Symptoms of alcoholic hepatitis do not typically become noticeable until the condition has progressed from its early stages. An individual may experience abdominal pain and swelling, appetite changes, and feelings of fatigue. Some people with advanced hepatitis become feverish, lightheaded, and jaundiced. Rarely, alcoholic hepatitis can have an acute onset immediately after a drinking binge, leading to high blood pressure, dizziness, and fainting.
A person who experiences any symptoms of alcoholic hepatitis should quit drinking and visit a physician as soon as possible to receive an accurate diagnosis. A doctor can conduct blood tests and an abdominal ultrasound to look for abnormalities. A biopsy of liver tissue may be needed to confirm hepatitis and check for signs of liver scarring, a condition known as cirrhosis. Once a diagnosis has been confirmed, the physician can determine the proper course of treatment.
An instance of mild hepatitis does not usually require medical treatment. Instead, the doctor explains to the patient the importance of abstaining from alcohol use, maintaining a healthy diet, and establishing a regular workout routine to improve liver health. A patient with a more severe condition may need to take medications to reduce inflammation and lessen symptoms of fever and fatigue. Liver transplantation is considered a final option for a patient who experiences cirrhosis or liver failure. By following doctors' orders and making healthy lifestyle decisions, most people who acquire alcoholic hepatitis are able to recover from the condition.