How Should Acute Alcoholic Hepatitis be Treated?

Alcoholic hepatitis typically occurs after more than 10 years of regular heavy alcohol use; patients typically present with recent onset of jaundice (left), ascites, and proximal muscle loss.

Case

A 53-year-old man with a history of daily alcohol use presents with one week of jaundice. His blood pressure is 95/60 mmHg, pulse 105/minute, and temperature 38.0°C. Examination discloses icterus, ascites, and an enlarged, tender liver. His bilirubin is 9 mg/dl, AST 250 IU/dL, ALT 115 IU/dL, prothromin time 22 seconds, INR 2.7, creatinine 0.9 mg/dL, and leukocyte count 15,000/cu mm with 70% neutrophils. He is admitted with a diagnosis of acute alcoholic hepatitis. How should he be treated?

Key Points

  • Alcoholic hepatitis is a severe form of alcohol-related liver disease associated with significant short-term mortality.
  • The diagnosis of alcoholic hepatitis is usually made on the basis of typical clinical and laboratory features.
  • Fever is common in alcoholic hepatitis but should prompt an evaluation for infection.
  • Treatment should include abstinence from alcohol and supplemental nutrition in all patients with alcoholic hepatitis.
  • Prognostic prediction models are used to select patients for treatment with prednisolone or pentoxifylline.

Background

Hospitalists frequently encounter patients who use alcohol and have abnormal liver tests. Regular, heavy alcohol consumption is associated with a variety of forms of liver disease, including fatty liver, inflammation, hepatic fibrosis, and cirrhosis. The term “alcoholic hepatitis” describes a more severe form of alcohol-related liver disease associated with significant short-term mortality.

Alcoholic hepatitis typically occurs after more than 10 years of regular heavy alcohol use; average consumption in one study was 100 g/day (the equivalent of 10 drinks per day).1 The typical patient presents with recent onset of jaundice, ascites, and proximal muscle loss. Fever and leukocytosis also are common but should prompt an evaluation for infection, especially spontaneous bacterial peritonitis. Liver biopsy in these patients shows steatosis, swollen hepatocytes containing eosinophilic inclusion (Mallory) bodies, and a prominent neutrophilic inflammatory cell infiltrate. Because of the accuracy of clinical diagnosis, biopsy is rarely required, relying instead on clinical and laboratory features for diagnosis (see Table 1, below).

click for large version
Table 1. Typical clinical and laboratory features of alcoholic hepatitis

Prognosis can be determined with prediction models. The most common are Model for End-Stage Liver Disease (MELD) and Maddrey’s discriminate score (see Table 2). Several websites allow quick calculation of these scores and provide estimated 30-day or 90-day mortality. These scores can be used to guide therapy.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *