Hepatitis is a disease that is characterized by inflammation of the liver. There are viral and noninfectious forms of hepatitis. Alcoholic hepatitis is a non-infectious form of hepatitis — it is not caused by a virus.
Alcoholic hepatitis is a chemically induced form of hepatitis, cannot be spread from person to person, and therefore, is not contagious.
Alcoholic hepatitis is one of the stages of alcohol-related liver disease and most commonly occurs in individuals who have been drinking alcohol excessively over a long period of time. Prolonged alcohol abuse damages the liver cells, creating scar tissue on the liver. This tissue does not function like healthy, functioning liver tissue.
If left untreated, alcoholic hepatitis can develop into cirrhosis and is considered a medical emergency. Alcoholic liver disease is a serious condition that needs immediate medical attention.
Causes Of Alcoholic Hepatitis
The liver is only capable of processing small amounts of alcohol at a time. Alcoholic hepatitis is the result of a person drinking so much alcohol that the liver cannot filter it all out.
An additional problem that contributes to alcoholic hepatitis is that when the liver breaks down alcohol, it metabolizes into toxic chemicals. These chemicals irritate the liver, cause inflammation, and destroy healthy cells in the liver.
The liver begins to be covered in scar tissue, which interrupts normal liver function (this is alcoholic hepatitis). If drinking continues, the scarring becomes permanent, resulting in cirrhosis.
Symptoms Of Alcoholic Hepatitis
Many of the symptoms of alcoholic hepatitis look like other health issues.
It is important to seek the attention of a health care professional for a proper diagnosis if any of the following symptoms exist:
- jaundice (yellowing of the eyes and skin)
- vomiting blood (looks like coffee grounds)
- loss of appetite
- weight loss due to malnutrition
- tenderness or pain in the abdominal area
- tiredness or fatigue
- dark-colored urine
- ascites (fluid build-up in abdomen)
Types Of Alcohol-Related Liver Disease
There are three stages of alcoholic-related liver disease (ARLD). When a person begins exhibiting signs or symptoms of the stages of ARLD, the person should quit drinking immediately and seek medical attention.
Stage 1: Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease
During the first stage of ARLD, fat builds up around the liver. The person may not show signs at this stage. If a person stops drinking while in this stage, they can reverse the damage to the liver.
Stage 2: Alcoholic Hepatitis
In the second stage of ARLD, the liver swells and there is some scarring of liver tissue. Mild cases can be reversed with not consuming alcohol and treatment. Severe cases can lead to liver failure.
Stage 3: Alcoholic Cirrhosis
This is the third and most severe stage of ARLD. Critical scarring of the liver is irreversible and can be life-threatening. Severe cases of alcoholic cirrhosis are at risk for liver failure and typically require a liver transplant.
People who have experienced any of these stages of alcohol-related liver disease are at a greater risk for developing liver cancer, or hepatocellular carcinoma.
Additionally, a person with pre-existing forms of hepatitis is at high risk for developing alcoholic hepatitis, even with moderate alcohol consumption.
Diagnosing Alcoholic Hepatitis
To properly diagnose a person with alcoholic hepatitis, a physical exam should be performed by a medical professional. During the physical, the treatment provider will discuss a full medical history, including a detailed history of alcohol abuse.
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The doctor may also order liver function tests or other blood tests if an individual shows abnormalities during the physical exam, or if the patient has a history of alcohol abuse or addiction.
An abdominal ultrasound may be conducted to examine any fluid that could be present in the abdomen, possible liver damage, and any tumors that might be active.
A liver biopsy may also be administered to resolve any other irregularities that could be detected during an exam.
Is Alcoholic Hepatitis Contagious Sexually?
Alcoholic hepatitis is not contagious. Therefore there are zero risks of spreading alcoholic hepatitis by any means, including sexual activities. Alcoholic hepatitis, unlike viral types of hepatitis, is developed from chemical effects that alcohol has on the liver and is classified as non-contagious hepatitis.
Other examples of non-contagious hepatitis include:
- toxic hepatitis — similar to alcoholic hepatitis, the liver is damaged by the abuse of chemicals, drugs (prescription or over-the-counter), or nutritional supplements
- autoimmune hepatitis — the body or immune system attacks the liver, treating it as a foreign object
Viral hepatitis forms, which are contagious:
- hepatitis A virus (HAV) — most commonly transferred through consuming water or food contaminated by feces of someone with HAV
- hepatitis B virus (HBV) — transferred through infected bodily fluids like blood or semen, intravenous drug use, or sex with someone infected increases your chance for HBV
- hepatitis C virus (HCV) — the most common form of viral hepatitis, transferred intravenously, though contact with body fluids, or through sexual intercourse with someone infected
Treatment For Hepatitis: Viral And Non-Contagious
There is no required treatment for hepatitis A, since it’s deemed a short-term illness. There are vaccines available to prevent HAV.
There is also a vaccination for hepatitis B that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends for all newborns. If chronic hepatitis B develops, there is treatment with antiviral medications and regular medical assessments.
Hepatitis C can also be managed with a regimented schedule of antiviral medications and regular check-ups, however, there is no vaccine. In some cases, people have been cured of Hep C.
Autoimmune hepatitis can be treated with corticosteroids along with other immunosuppressive drugs.
Alcoholic hepatitis treatment varies on the severity of the disease. In all forms of alcohol-related liver disease, the person must stop drinking immediately. Failure to do so will only progress the disease and put a person at risk for cirrhosis or even liver failure.
Medications are available to reduce liver inflammation along with vitamins and supplements. If severe alcoholic hepatitis is diagnosed, a liver transplant may be recommended.
Treatment For Alcoholism
Because it is important to stop drinking immediately if there is a diagnosis for alcohol-related liver disease, including alcoholic hepatitis, it is strongly encouraged to seek an alcohol addiction treatment facility to aid in the process.
Reach out to our trained professionals today so we can assist in locating a rehab facility that meets the needs of you or your loved one.
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- Johns Hopkins Medicine — Alcoholic Hepatitis
- Mayo Clinic — Alcoholic Hepatitis