Author: David Rowlands
Symptoms of alcoholic hepatitis
The most common sign of alcoholic hepatitis is jaundice, causing yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes. Other signs and symptoms include loss of appetite, nausea and vomiting, abdominal tenderness, fever, which is often low-grade, fatigue and weakness and weight loss
Just about everyone who has alcoholic hepatitis is malnourished. Drinking large amounts of alcohol suppresses the appetite, and heavy drinkers get most of their calories in the form of alcohol.
Signs and symptoms of severe alcoholic hepatitis include fluid accumulation in the abdomen, ascites confusion and behaviour changes resulting from a build-up of toxins normally broken down and eliminated by the liver and kidney, and liver failure.
For people with HCV infection alcohol causes damage that compounds damage to the liver – even small amounts of alcohol may increase the risk of liver damage and advanced liver disease. Alcohol may also decrease the effectiveness of medications to combat the effects of HCV.
Avoiding alcohol is one step hepatitis C patients can take to improve their long-term health. But there are social implications.
Matt, 28, from Manchester, was recently diagnosed with hepatitis C. He explains: “I live in the city centre and often go out drinking and socialising with friends. I know my alcohol consumption is far too high but if I didn’t drink my friends would question it. For me, dealing with the stigma of hepatitis C and how people stereotype me is a greater cause of concern.”
This is of course a complex problem. But the research indicates that for most people, if you’ve been diagnosed with chronic HCV infection you should refrain from drinking alcohol.
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Patients infected with the hepatitis C virus who drink heavily are likely to suffer more severe liver injury, promoting disease progression to cirrhosis and increasing their risk of liver cancer. Some research suggests that even moderate drinking may spur liver damage in these patients. David Rowlands examines the issue
Hepatitis C is an inflammation of the liver caused by the hepatitis C virus (HCV). It is a slowly progressing virus, so signs of hepatic inflammation don’t typically appear until 10-20 years after initial exposure. The majority of people with chronic hepatitis C will never develop a major complication related to this disease, but if undetected, ignored or untreated, hepatitis C is more likely to develop into cirrhosis or liver cancer. Moreover, if hepatitis C patients regularly consume alcohol – even socially accepted amounts – they will significantly raise their risk of developing these two conditions.
The liver performs many important functions, including detoxifying the blood and making important nutrients the body needs. When alcohol is drunk the liver breaks it down so it can be removed from the body, but drinking too much can damage or kill liver cells.
Inflammation and long-term damage to liver cells can lead to fatty liver disease, alcoholic hepatitis, and alcoholic cirrhosis. Fatty liver disease and early-stage alcoholic hepatitis can be reversed if you stop drinking. However, damage from severe alcoholic hepatitis and cirrhosis is permanent, and may lead to drastic complications or even death.
Studies indicate that alcohol intake of more than 50 grams a day (approximately 3.5 drinks per day) leads to an increased risk of fibrosis and ultimately cirrhosis. While a French study of 6,600 HCV patients concluded that cirrhosis occurred in 35% of patients who were heavy drinkers and in just 18% of patients who were not heavy drinkers.
It is important that people with Hepatitis C are aware of how alcohol can adversely affect their condition – and why. But many may be unaware of the dangers.
Dean, 43, from Birmingham, has lived with hepatitis C for four years. He commented: “I know very little about the liver and I feel more patient education is needed, both in a healthcare setting and also in paitients groups. I use the Internet often and I feel developing online resources would be key to communicate this information in an informative way.”
Helen, 48, from Manchester, was diagnosed with hepatitis C nine years ago. She said: “I engage in my care well and try to live a healthy lifestyle when I can. I am in full-time employment and at the end of the day I do have a drink. We all need to relax and enjoy our lives. I am aware of new more tolerable treatments becoming available and in time I know I will be able to clear my hepatitis C and live a full life.”