NPR for North Texas
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Vital Signs: Alcohol Hepatitis – Heavy Drinkers Beware


UT Southwestern Medical Center is taking part in clinical trials for treatment of alcohol hepatitis. Dr. Mack Mitchell, Vice Chairman and Professor of Internal Medicine, explains why in this week’s installment of KERA’s Vital Signs.

Things To Know About Alcohol Hepatitis

The MayoClinic says that while liver inflammation caused by drinking alcohol is most likely to occur in people who drink heavily over many years, the relationship between drinking and alcoholic hepatitis is complex. Not all heavy drinkers develop alcoholic hepatitis, and the disease can occur in people who drink only moderately.

If you’re diagnosed with alcoholic hepatitis, you must stop drinking alcohol. People who continue to drink alcohol face a high risk of serious liver damage and death.


  • Yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes (jaundice) and increasing girth (due to fluid accumulation).
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Abdominal pain and tenderness
  • Weight loss

Signs and symptoms of severe alcoholic hepatitis include:

  • Retaining large amounts of fluid in your abdominal cavity (ascites)
  • Confusion and behavior changes due to brain damage from buildup of toxins (encephalopathy)
  • Kidney and liver failure


Stop drinking alcohol

If you’ve been diagnosed with alcoholic hepatitis, you must stop drinking alcohol. It’s the only way of possibly reversing liver damage or, in more advanced cases, preventing the disease from becoming worse. Many people who stop drinking have dramatic improvement in symptoms in just a few months.

Treatment for malnutrition

Your doctor may recommend a special diet to reverse nutritional deficiencies that often occur in people with alcoholic hepatitis. You may be referred to a dietitian who can help you assess your current diet and suggest changes to increase the vitamins and nutrients you are lacking.

If you have trouble eating enough to get the vitamins and nutrients your body needs, your doctor may recommend tube feeding. This may involve passing a tube down your throat and into your stomach. A special nutrient-rich liquid diet is then passed through the tube.

Medications to reduce liver inflammation

Corticosteroids drugs have shown some short-term benefit in increasing survival. But they have significant side effects and are not recommended if you have failing kidneys, gastrointestinal bleeding or an infection.

Liver transplant

For many people with severe alcoholic hepatitis, liver transplant is the only hope to avoid death. Survival rates for liver transplant for alcoholic hepatitis are similar to those for other forms of hepatitis, greater than 70 percent five-year survival.

However, most medical centers are reluctant to perform liver transplants on people with alcoholic liver disease because of the fear they will resume drinking after surgery.

Sam Baker is KERA's senior editor and local host for Morning Edition. The native of Beaumont, Texas, also edits and produces radio commentaries and Vital Signs, a series that's part of the station's Breakthroughs initiative. He also was the longtime host of KERA 13’s Emmy Award-winning public affairs program On the Record. He also won an Emmy in 2008 for KERA’s Sharing the Power: A Voter’s Voice Special, and has earned honors from the Associated Press and the Public Radio News Directors Inc.