Doctors use a combination of methods to diagnose people with alcoholic hepatitis. They may identify the condition according to a person’s medical history, a physical exam, imaging scans, and more.

Alcoholic hepatitis is a condition in which heavy alcohol usage causes inflammation in a person’s liver. It is different from infectious viral hepatitis. It may not cause someone to have symptoms, but it can cause serious complications.

This article discusses different methods that healthcare professionals use to diagnose alcoholic hepatitis. It also discusses treatments and when to speak with a doctor.

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Healthcare professionals may first check a person’s symptoms and ask about their medical history. They may also ask about their lifestyle, including how much alcohol they drink.

According to the United Kingdom’s National Health Service (NHS), many people with alcoholic hepatitis do not know they have it because the condition does not always cause symptoms.

People with the condition may experience several symptoms. However, they may be mild for some and more severe for others.

Symptoms of alcoholic hepatitis may include:

If alcoholic hepatitis leads to cirrhosis, symptoms may include:

  • jaundice
  • gastrointestinal bleeding
  • ascites, which is the medical term for when fluid collects in spaces within a person’s abdomen
  • hepatic encephalopathy, which describes a decline in a person’s brain function due to toxins in the bloodstream
  • coagulopathy, which is when the blood cannot clot properly, leading to prolonged or excessive bleeding from injury

During a physical exam, healthcare professionals may check a person for:

Blood tests for alcoholic hepatitis may assess a person’s liver function, including:

  • levels of enzymes, such as aspartate transaminase and alanine transaminase, which may help a doctor identify liver damage resulting from alcohol use
  • levels of bilirubin, which can lead to jaundice in high amounts
  • C-reactive protein levels, which may indicate inflammation in a person’s body
  • alcohol levels
  • ammonia levels
  • signs of blood clots

To help diagnose alcoholic hepatitis, healthcare professionals may use imaging scans of a person’s abdomen and liver. They may include:

These scans can help doctors detect blood clots and cirrhosis and rule out other conditions, such as:

A biopsy is a procedure where a professional removes a small sample of tissue or cells from a person’s body. They then send this sample for laboratory testing. Healthcare professionals use biopsies to help diagnose or detect conditions.

A liver biopsy is not always necessary for a diagnosis of alcoholic hepatitis. However, in some cases, healthcare professionals may use them to rule out other conditions or to confirm someone has severe alcoholic hepatitis. They may use a biopsy alongside other diagnostic methods.

The main treatment for alcoholic hepatitis is for a person to stop drinking alcohol.

Other treatments for severe alcoholic hepatitis, which often involves cirrhosis, include:

According to the NHS, alcoholic hepatitis can worsen and develop into a severe condition without treatment. Severe alcoholic hepatitis can increase the risk of liver cancer or liver failure.

Alcoholic hepatitis may not cause any signs and can develop suddenly. However, if a person notices they have symptoms or has concerns, they need to seek professional medical advice.

Healthcare professionals can provide an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment for alcoholic hepatitis. Early treatment of the condition may improve a person’s outlook.

People can also speak with a doctor if they have concerns about how much alcohol they drink. A doctor can offer advice for limiting alcohol intake and support for alcohol use disorder.

Heavy alcohol intake may cause a person’s liver to become damaged and inflamed. Doctors refer to this as alcoholic hepatitis. People with alcoholic hepatitis may have several symptoms that come on suddenly or no symptoms at all.

Therefore, healthcare professionals use several methods to diagnose people with this condition. These methods include conducting physical exams, checking a person’s medical history, and carrying out blood tests and imaging scans.

The main treatment for alcoholic hepatitis is to stop drinking alcohol. Doctors may also recommend medication, nutritional supplementation, and liver transplants.

A person needs to speak with a doctor if they experience any symptoms of alcoholic hepatitis or if they have any concerns about their alcohol intake.