Your doctor will conduct a physical examination and ask about your history of alcohol consumption. It is important to be honest in describing your drinking habits. Your doctor might ask to interview family members about your drinking.
To test for liver disease, your doctor might recommend:
- Liver function tests
- Blood tests
- An ultrasound, CT or MRI scan of the liver
- A liver biopsy, if other tests and imaging don't provide a clear diagnosis or if you are at risk of other causes of hepatitis
Treatment for alcoholic hepatitis involves drinking cessation and therapies to ease the signs and symptoms of liver damage.
If you've been diagnosed with alcoholic hepatitis, you must stop drinking alcohol and never drink alcohol again. It's the only way of possibly reversing liver damage or preventing the disease from becoming worse. Survival rates for people with alcoholic hepatitis who stop drinking are significantly better than survival rates for people who continue drinking.
If you are dependent on alcohol and want to stop drinking, your doctor can recommend a therapy that's tailored for your needs. Treatment might include:
- Alcoholics Anonymous or other support groups
- Outpatient or residential treatment program
Treatment for malnutrition
Your doctor might recommend a special diet to correct nutritional problems. You might be referred to a dietitian who can suggest ways to increase your consumption of the vitamins and nutrients you lack, including vitamin B1 (thiamine).
If you have trouble eating, your doctor might recommend tube feeding. A tube is passed down your throat or through your side and into your stomach. A special nutrient-rich liquid diet is then passed through the tube.
Medications to reduce liver inflammation
If you have severe alcoholic hepatitis, your doctor might recommend:
- Corticosteroids. These medications have shown some short-term benefit in increasing survival of certain people with severe alcoholic hepatitis. However, corticosteroids have serious side effects and generally aren't prescribed if you have failing kidneys, gastrointestinal bleeding or an infection.
- Pentoxifylline. Your doctor might recommend this anti-inflammatory medication if you have severe alcoholic hepatitis and can't take corticosteroids. The overall benefit of pentoxifylline for alcoholic hepatitis isn't clear. Studies indicate that pentoxifylline might not be effective for people with mild alcoholic hepatitis or for people who haven't responded to steroid treatment.
For many people with severe alcoholic hepatitis, a liver transplant is the only hope to avoid death. Survival rates for liver transplant for alcoholic hepatitis are similar to survival rates for transplants associated with other types of liver disease.
However, most transplant centers are reluctant to perform liver transplants on people with alcoholic liver disease because of the fear they will resume drinking after surgery. For transplant to be an option, you would need:
- To find a program that will consider you
- To meet the requirements of the program, including abstaining from alcohol for six months before transplant and agreeing not to resume drinking afterward
Preparing for your appointment
You may be referred to a digestive disease specialist (gastroenterologist).
What you can do
- Be aware of any pre-appointment restrictions, such as restricting your diet.
- Write down your symptoms, including any that may seem unrelated to the reason why you scheduled the appointment.
- Make a list of all your medications, vitamins and supplements.
- Write down your key medical information, including other conditions.
- Write down key personal information, including any recent changes or stressors in your life. Track your alcohol consumption for a few days so you can let your doctor know how much you regularly consume.
- Write down questions to ask your doctor.
- Ask a relative or friend to accompany you, to help you remember what the doctor says.
Questions to ask your doctor
- What's the most likely cause of my symptoms? Are there any other possible causes?
- What tests do I need? Is there any special preparation for them?
- Is my condition temporary or chronic?
- What treatments are available? Which one do you recommend?
- I have other health problems. How can I best manage these conditions together?
In addition to the questions that you've prepared to ask your doctor, don't hesitate to ask other questions during your appointment.
What to expect from your doctor
Your doctor is likely to ask you a number of questions. Being ready to answer them may leave time to go over points you want to spend more time on. You may be asked:
- What are your symptoms, and when did they begin?
- How severe are your symptoms? Are they occasional or continuous?
- Does anything improve or worsen your symptoms?
- How often do you drink alcohol, and how many drinks do you usually consume?
- Have you ever had hepatitis or yellowing of the skin?
- Do you use any other recreational drugs?
- Are your family members or friends concerned about your drinking? Have you had social consequences — such as an arrest— because of your drinking?
- Do you get angry or anxious when the subject of your drinking is discussed?
- Do you feel guilty about drinking?
- Do you drink in the morning — do you need an eye-opener?