The short answer is yes. It’s called alcoholic hepatitis and it involves the inflammation of the liver brought on by drinking alcohol. This affliction is most common in those who drink heavily over the course of many years and decades. That being said, not all heavy alcoholics will fall victim to hepatitis, while others who only have an occasional drink have been known to contract it.
The bottom line is that those who face an alcoholic hepatitis diagnosis must quit drinking right away and never take it up again. If you keep drinking, you can risk serious liver damage, liver failure and death. The most common symptom of alcoholic hepatitis is when the whites of the eyes turn yellow. This is also known as jaundice.
Here are some more symptoms to be aware of:
- Loss of appetite
- Nausea and vomiting
- Tenderness in the abdomen
- Low-grade fever
- Fatigue and weakness
- Weight loss
Malnourishment is par for the course in those suffering from this disease. That’s because drinking lots of alcohol can suppress the appetite. Heavy drinkers get most of their caloric intake from alcohol; therefore, they feel no need for food. In severe cases, the victim can accumulate fluid in the abdomen, become confused, and act differently – all due to a buildup of toxins that the liver is normally in charge of breaking down. Because the liver isn’t working properly, those toxins build up to dangerous levels. As a result, kidney and liver failure are very real possibilities.
Reasons to Head to the Doctor
Alcoholic hepatitis is a very serious disease, with 30 to 40 percent of people with severe alcoholic hepatitis facing death within just one month. Here are some reasons to make an appointment with your doctor right away.
- You display signs or symptoms of alcoholic hepatitis (see above).
- You can’t control your drinking.
- You want to cut back on your drinking.
What are the Causes?
While we know that alcoholic hepatitis develops when too much alcohol damages the liver, it’s not clear how or why some people are affected differently.
The medical community knows the following:
- Toxic chemicals are produced by the body when it breaks down alcohol.
- Those chemicals can bring on inflammation to destroy liver cells
- Healthy liver tissue can be replaced by scars over time. This interferes with proper liver function.
- This irreversible scarring is called cirrhosis, marking the last stage of alcoholic liver disease.
You are at an increased risk for alcoholic hepatitis if you have hepatitis C and also drink, whether moderately or heavily. People who are malnourished and drink heavily can develop this disease. It’s a vicious cycle: you don’t eat because you are drinking and your poor diet prevents your body from properly absorbing nutrients. Then, liver cell damage results due to that lack of nutrients.
The biggest risk factor here is the amount of alcohol consumed; however, other factors put you at a predisposed risk as well. These include:
- Gender. Women have a better chance at developing alcoholic hepatitis due to the differences in the way alcohol is processed in their bodies.
- Obesity. Heavy drinkers who are also obese or overweight are more apt to develop alcoholic hepatitis, progressing quickly to cirrhosis.
- Family history. There is a genetic component in alcohol-induced liver disease, but it can be hard to quantify due to the distraction of environmental factors at play.
- Race and ethnicity. African-Americans and Hispanics are at higher risk of alcoholic hepatitis.
- Binge drinking. Drinking five or more alcoholic beverages at one sitting increases your risk of alcoholic hepatitis.
There are ways to reduce your risk of developing alcoholic hepatitis. You must:
- Stop drinking, or at the very least drink alcohol in moderation. If you are a healthy adult, you can safely consume one drink a day for females and two for males.
- Protect yourself from getting hepatitis C. This is an infectious liver disease brought on by a virus. Cirrhosis can occur if you don’t treat it.
- Don’t mix medications and alcohol without checking with your doctor first. Your doctor will best be able to tell you if you can safely drink alcohol when taking prescription medications. Read all warning labels on over-the- counter medications. Nix alcohol when taking medications that could have adverse side effects if mixed.
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