Skip to main content

Alcoholic Hepatitis

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Oct 3, 2022.

What is alcoholic hepatitis?

Alcoholic hepatitis (AH) is liver inflammation caused by heavy alcohol use. AH can develop if you binge drink or if you drink regularly or heavily over time. Your risk for AH is higher if you are a woman or you are obese.

What are the signs and symptoms of AH?

  • Yellowing of your skin or the whites of your eyes
  • Dark urine or pale bowel movements
  • Loss of appetite or weight loss without trying
  • Nausea, vomiting, or abdominal pain
  • Swelling in your arms or legs, or fluid retention in your abdomen
  • Fatigue or a fever
  • A fast heartbeat

How is AH diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will ask how much alcohol you drink at one time. Your provider will ask how much you drink each day and how often you drink each week. Tell your provider how long you have been drinking alcohol and if you received treatment for alcohol addiction.

  • Blood tests are used to check your liver function.
  • CT or ultrasound pictures may show liver damage or enlargement.
  • A biopsy is a procedure used to take a sample of your liver to be tested. A liver biopsy is done if other tests do not show what is causing your symptoms.

How is AH treated?

  • Do not drink alcohol. You must stop drinking alcohol as part of your treatment. You may be able to manage or reverse mild AH by not drinking alcohol. You may not be able to reverse severe AH, but not drinking may help prevent it from getting worse. Ask your healthcare provider how to stop drinking safely. Ask for more information if you need help quitting.
  • Medicines may be given to reduce inflammation in your liver or help your liver function better. You may also be given medicine to reduce fluid retention.

Treatment options

The following list of medications are in some way related to or used in the treatment of this condition.

What can I do to manage AH?

  • Protect yourself against hepatitis C. Hepatitis C is a serious liver infection caused by a virus. Hepatitis C causes liver damage and makes it easier for you to develop AH. It also increases your risk for cirrhosis, especially if you continue to drink alcohol. Cirrhosis is a serious disease that causes scarring in your liver. Do not share needles if you inject drugs. Use a condom so you do not get hepatitis C during sex.
  • Do not smoke. Nicotine can damage blood vessels and make it more difficult to manage AH. Ask your healthcare provider for information if you currently smoke and need help to quit. E-cigarettes or smokeless tobacco still contain nicotine. Talk to your healthcare provider before you use these products.
  • Ask about vaccines. You may need vaccines to protect you against hepatitis A or B, pneumonia, or the flu. AH can increase your risk for infections.
  • Drink liquids as directed. Your healthcare provider may recommend you drink more liquids to help your liver function or reduce fluid retention. Ask how much liquid to drink each day and which liquids are best for you.
  • Eat a variety of healthy foods. Healthy foods include fruits, vegetables, lean meats, fish, and low-fat dairy products. Your healthcare provider or dietitian can help you create meal plans to make sure you get enough calories and protein. It may be helpful to eat smaller meals throughout the day to prevent nausea and help your body absorb nutrition. Limit sodium (salt) to prevent or reduce fluid retention.
  • Take vitamins or minerals as directed. Your healthcare provider may recommend vitamin B or other vitamins or minerals. Do not take any vitamins or minerals without talking with your healthcare provider. Too much iron can be dangerous to your liver.

What are the risks of AH?

  • AH can cause damage to organs such as your kidneys. You may develop bleeding in the veins in your esophagus or stomach, an enlarged spleen, or liver cancer. You may develop high blood pressure in the portal vein of your liver. Your portal vein is the main blood supply for your liver.
  • If you do not stop drinking, you may develop cirrhosis. Liver damage also prevents your liver from removing toxins from your blood. Toxins can build up and cause brain damage that may lead to a coma.

Call 911 for any of the following:

  • You have trouble breathing.
  • You vomit blood or material that looks like coffee grounds.
  • You lose consciousness.
  • You have dark or bloody bowel movements.
  • You feel confused.

When should I seek immediate care?

  • You have a fever or chills.
  • You have pain or swelling in your abdomen.
  • You feel dizzy or lightheaded.
  • You vomit several times in a row.

When should I contact my healthcare provider?

  • You feel more tired than usual.
  • You lose weight without trying, lose your appetite, or feel too nauseated to eat.
  • You have worsening yellowing of your skin or the whites of your eyes.
  • Your urine becomes very dark.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your healthcare providers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

© Copyright IBM Corporation 2022 Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or IBM Watson Health

Learn more about Alcoholic Hepatitis

Treatment options

Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.