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The Dangers of Alcohol Abuse | Alcoholic Hepatitis

What Is Alcoholic Hepatitis?

While the liver is a resilient organ, healing itself after a minor injury, its ability to regenerate has limits. After an individual habitually abuses alcohol for an extended period of time, the liver becomes agitated and inflamed, resulting in alcoholic hepatitis.

Key points:

  • The liver breaks down the alcohol you consume.
  • If you drink more alcohol than the liver can process and heal from, the damage continues to build upon itself, inflaming and scarring the liver.
  • Alcoholic hepatitis is inflammation of the liver that damages and kills liver cells.
  • Severe, or acute, alcoholic hepatitis may develop suddenly, leading to liver failure and death.
  • To treat this disease, an individual must cease all drinking and find treatment for alcohol use disorder to ensure total abstinence from alcohol.

The dangers of alcohol abuse are rather apparent once someone has reached the point of developing alcoholic hepatitis as this inflammation of the liver leads to liver cell damage and cell death more often than not. In fact, if not properly treated, alcoholic hepatitis degenerates into liver cirrhosis, late-stage liver disease, in which the liver scarring has advanced to the point of crippling the liver’s ability to function.

How To Recognize the Symptoms of Prolonged Alcohol Abuse

Alcoholic hepatitis is a progressive disease, meaning the damages are gradual and build up over time. Considering this, many people neglect to notice the early signs. As such, those suffering from this liver disease often seek out help for their symptoms once they have inflicted extensive damage to the liver. In fact, this disease is most often diagnosed in the middle age range in individuals who are 40 to 60 years old.

Common symptoms of alcoholic hepatitis:

  • Lethargy
  • Fatigue
  • Lack of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Malnutrition
  • Nausea
  • Fever
  • Tenderness of the stomach
  • Swelling of the abdomen
  • Pain above the liver
  • Vomiting blood
  • Confusion/Disorientation
  • Jaundice – Yellowing of the skin and/or eyes

Unfortunately, many symptoms of alcoholic hepatitis can present similarly to other health conditions. For this reason, it is always important to be open an honest about your alcohol consumption. Always see a doctor for a diagnosis and treatment of alcoholic hepatitis.

Can Liver Scarring Be Treated?

To treat alcoholic hepatitis it is necessary that the individual quit drinking in order for the liver to begin healing itself. However, it is important to note that extensive scarring over an extended amount of time can prove irreversible. As such, the goal of treatment is to restore some or all normal functioning to the liver while managing the current symptoms.

To clarify, in order to reverse or manage the symptoms of this disease, you will need to stop drinking alcohol. Additionally, as many who have alcoholic hepatitis suffering from alcohol use disorder, it is likely you may need to receive care in an alcohol addiction treatment program to safely detox from alcohol.

Depending on the severity of your condition, you may be admitted to the hospital or treated on an outpatient basis. As there is no medication that cures alcoholic hepatitis, treatment for liver scarring involves easing the individual’s symptoms and stopping further damages that result in liver deterioration and death.

Be sure to ask your healthcare provider about recommended vaccines. These include vaccines for viruses that can cause liver disease.

What Are the Health Complications of Alcohol Abuse?

If you continue to drink alcohol, the liver will continue to be damaged. Over time, health complications will develop that create further deterioration of the liver.

  • Gallstones
  • Varices – Enlarged veins that inhibit blow flow
  • Ascites – Fluid that builds up in the abdomen, causing infection
  • Hepatic encephalopathy – A build-up of toxins in the body, causing brain damage
  • Coma
  • Kidney failure
  • Liver cancer
  • Cirrhosis – Severe and often fatal scarring of the liver

In addition to cirrhosis of the liver, many people are also infected with the hepatitis C virus, which adds to the scarring of the liver.

Alcoholic Hepatitis Life Expectancy

Unfortunately, there is no cure for alcoholic hepatitis and the extesive scarring due to excessive alcohol consumption may not be reversable. As a result, treatments and procedures aim to prevent additional damages while minimizing the effects cause by the liver scarring.

Mild alcoholic hepatitis is a benign disorder with negligible short-term mortality. However, when [the disease] is of sufficient severity to cause hepatic encephalopathy, jaundice, or coagulopathy, mortality can be substantial.

The overall 30-day mortality rate in patients hospitalized with alcoholic hepatitis is approximately 15%; however, in patients with severe liver disease, the rate approaches or exceeds 50%. In those lacking encephalopathy, jaundice, or coagulopathy, the 30-day mortality rate is less than 5%. Overall, the 1-year mortality rate after hospitalization for alcoholic hepatitis is approximately 40%(MedScape).

While some patients who suffer from life-threatening alcoholic hepatitis may be eligible for a liver transplant, the best way to heal from this disease is prevention. In essence, catching alcohol abuse early on and seeking treatment for a dependency or addiction can prevent the irreparable damages cause by alcohol abuse.

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