Alcoholic hepatitis is a medical condition that affects the liver. The condition causes inflammation, which destroys liver cells and may result in permanent damage. According to the American Liver Foundation, 35% of heavy drinkers develop alcoholic hepatitis.
If not addressed timely, alcoholic hepatitis can lead to liver cirrhosis, which, in turn, could cause liver failure. If a person quits drinking, the liver can usually rebound. However, continuous alcohol use over many years may lead to irreversible damage.
How Can Alcohol Use Cause Hepatitis?
Hepatitis is serious liver inflammation. Viruses or toxins can trigger this condition. Alcohol is a toxin. When the liver continuously has to process alcohol, it may not have the resources to filter toxins out of the body.
Once toxins build up in the liver, they start damaging the organ. Even though the liver has the ability to rebound, too many toxins prevent it from doing so. Eventually, the damage can become too severe and lead to cirrhosis.
Liver cirrhosis occurs when continuous liver damage results in scarring. The excessive scar tissue on the liver keeps the organ from working properly. Eventually, this condition may lead to liver failure.
Risk Factors for Alcohol-Induced Hepatitis
The main risk factor for alcoholic hepatitis is heavy alcohol consumption. Other risk factors include:
• Gender – women are at a higher risk of developing alcoholic hepatitis than men. This may have to do with how a woman’s body processes alcohol.
• Excess weight – studies show that being overweight for over 10 years is an independent risk factor for developing acute alcoholic hepatitis.
• Genetics – genes may play a role in developing alcoholic hepatitis. More studies are currently being done to identify the responsible gene.
• Race – some races (African Americans and Hispanics) are more likely to develop alcoholic hepatitis than others.
Binge drinking and heavy drinking can also increase the risk of developing alcoholic hepatitis in both men and women.
Alcohol-Induced Hepatitis Symptoms
Alcoholic hepatitis doesn’t become apparent immediately. A person may not have any symptoms before the disease progresses. However, it is clear that alcoholic hepatitis results from drinking alcohol.
Common signs include:
• Soreness in the upper right abdomen (where the liver is located)
• Inflammation of the liver
• Abnormally swollen abdomen
• Loss of appetite
• Weight loss
• Light or colorless stool that floats (a sign of poor liver function)
• Yellow skin and eyes (also called jaundice)
• Vomiting blood
As soon as symptoms occur, it’s imperative to get medical assistance. Catching the problem early and taking action can prevent alcoholic hepatitis from progressing.
How Much Do You Need to Drink to Get Alcohol-Induced Hepatitis?
A person doesn’t have to be a heavy drinker for many years to develop this condition. Some people need less alcohol to start suffering from this problem than others. Everything depends on individual characteristics.
In most cases, to develop alcoholic hepatitis, a person has to drink more than 3.5 ounces of alcohol (approximately seven beers or seven shots) daily for around 20 years.
These numbers are an approximation. Many people will develop alcoholic hepatitis much earlier, especially if they have certain risk factors and practice binge drinking.
Complications of Alcoholic Hepatitis
If not treated, alcoholic hepatitis can result in liver tissue scarring. When healthy liver tissue is replaced by scar tissue, problems with blood flow occur. This leads to higher pressure in the portal vein and causes toxin buildup.
As a result, the person can suffer from the following:
• Enlarged veins – blood that doesn’t flow freely through the portal vein can build up in stomach blood vessels. This could result in internal bleeding, which is a medical emergency.
• Ascites – the fluid that stays in the abdomen due to poor liver function can become infected. While this condition isn’t life-threatening, it signals the approaching liver cirrhosis.
• Confusion and slurred speech – as toxins build up in your body, they can reach the brain and cause hepatic encephalopathy. This can result in brain damage.
Eventually, untreated alcoholic hepatitis leads to cirrhosis and liver failure.
Can Alcoholic Hepatitis Be Reversed?
In its early stages, alcoholic hepatitis can be reversed. The liver can rebound as soon as the person stops drinking and starts receiving appropriate treatment. While treating the existing scar tissue is impossible, quitting prevents the new one from forming.
If the amount of scarring isn’t high, the liver can function normally. To keep it this way, a person needs to avoid alcohol.
Treating Alcoholic Hepatitis
To start treating alcoholic hepatitis, the individual has to stop drinking. If alcohol continues entering the body, the liver doesn’t have a chance to heal. It’s imperative to stop drinking entirely as soon as possible.
Quitting alcohol “cold turkey” is rarely efficient. It could even be dangerous. Ideally, the withdrawal process should be arranged in a licensed rehabilitation center.
People who live with alcoholic hepatitis often suffer from malnutrition. It’s essential to arrange a healthy balanced diet to ensure the right amount of nutrients. If a person is in a rehabilitation center, they receive nutritious meals several times a day.
If a person is getting treatment at home, it’s imperative to get diet recommendations from a doctor and follow them carefully.
If alcoholic hepatitis is severe, a person may require hospitalization. A patient will need a transplant if this condition leads to liver failure. It’s worth mentioning that not all people are eligible for liver transplants.
Quitting Can Stop Alcoholic Hepatitis
While alcoholic hepatitis is a serious medical condition, it’s possible to reverse it. If a person decides to stop drinking and goes through effective rehabilitation, the liver can grow healthy tissue and function normally.
Quitting alcohol isn’t an easy process. It requires a comprehensive approach and medical assistance. There isn’t anything wrong with getting help to fight this problem. When a person works with professionals, the chances of staying sober increase exponentially.
New Method Wellness is an accredited rehabilitation center that helped hundreds of people in Southern California get their lives back on track.
Contact us to learn about our rehab programs today.