Review article: the diagnosis and management of alcoholic hepatitis


Dr S. M. Cohen, Section of Hepatology, Rush University Medical Center, 1725 West Harrison Street, no. 158, Chicago, IL 60612, USA.


Background  Alcoholic hepatitis is a severe, cholestatic liver disease occurring in patients with alcohol abuse. Mortality is substantial; however, therapies may improve clinical outcomes.

Aim  To provide an updated review of the epidemiology, diagnosis, staging and treatment of alcoholic hepatitis.

Methods  A MEDLINE literature search was performed to identify pertinent articles. Relevant clinical abstracts were also reviewed.

Results  Severe alcoholic hepatitis occurs in a small fraction of patients who abuse alcohol. The 28-day mortality ranges from 30% to 50% in most series. Diagnosis is generally based on clinical features, with a limited role for liver biopsy. Beneficial treatment options include alcohol abstinence and nutritional therapy. Despite variable results in clinical trials, corticosteroids and pentoxifylline appear to provide moderate survival benefit. Anti-tumour necrosis factor agents and antioxidants have not proven beneficial, and should be limited to clinical trials. Liver transplant is not a frequent option given the active or recent alcohol use.

Conclusions  Severe alcoholic hepatitis is a clinically-diagnosed condition associated with significant mortality. Alcohol abstinence and nutritional therapy have been associated with improved clinical parameters and should be considered in all patients. Corticosteroid therapy and pentoxifylline therapy appear to show moderate survival benefit and should be considered as first-line therapeutic agents.