Alcoholic liver disease diagnosis is suggested by an established history of habitual alcohol intake of sufficient length and intensity.
Toxic daily threshold of alcohol consumption is 40-80 g for males and 20-40 g for females for 10-12 years.
Signs of alcohol abuse and hepatic injury include malnutrition and muscle wasting, cutaneous telangiectasia, palmar erythema, finger clubbing, Dupuytren's contracture, peripheral neuropathy, parotid gland enlargement and signs of gynecomastia and hypogonadism may also be present.


Corticosteroid Hormones

  • Most extensively studied pharmacological agent in patients with severe alcoholic hepatitis
  • May be considered in patients with the following:
    • Diagnosis of severe alcoholic hepatitis which has been defined and calculated as:
      • Discriminant function >32 [4.6 x (PT above control in sec) + bilirubin in mg/dL]
    • Hepatic encephalopathy
  • Action: Reduce the pro-inflammatory response
  • Prednisolone is preferred to Prednisone
    • Prednisone needs conversion to the active form, Prednisolone, in the liver
  • Corticosteroids have not been studied and are therefore contraindicated in patients with gastrointestinal bleeding, renal failure, diabetes, pancreatitis or in patients with evidence of infection
  • N-acetylcysteine may be helpful in patients with severe alcoholic hepatitis taking corticosteroids


  • An oral phosphodiesterase inhibitor that also inhibits tumor necrosis factor alpha production
  • In a study of patients with alcoholic hepatitis with discriminate function score >32, Pentoxifylline showed survival benefit and significant protection against the hepatorenal syndrome
  • Action: May be related to beneficial effects of the drug on microcirculation especially within the kidneys
  • Further studies are required to confirm efficacy

Points to consider before commencing treatment with Corticosteroids or Pentoxifylline:

  • Do hepatitis B virus (HBV), hepatitis C virus (HCV), human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) screening
  • Obtain an abdominal ultrasound to rule out other etiologies of jaundice
  • Screen for infection in blood, urine, ascites culture
  • Screen for renal failure and treat hepatorenal syndrome
  • Control hyperglycemia

Investigational Therapies


  • Clinical trials show conflicting results
  • Further studies are required to confirm efficacy

Propylthiouracil (PTU)

  • A recent meta-analysis found no significant effects of PTU vs placebo on mortality or liver-related mortality, complications of liver disease, or liver histology


  • Metadoxine
    • Studies have shown improvement in biochemical parameters, though additional studies are needed regarding its long-term effects
  • S-adenosylmethionine (SAMe)
    • Reports suggest a decrease in mortality but other trials found no significant benefit
  • Silymarin
    • Meta-analysis showed reduction in liver-related mortality in patients with alcoholic liver disease

Anti-Tumor Necrosis Factor (TNF) Agents

  • Use of tumor necrosis factor (TNF) inhibitors Infliximab and Etanercept is currently limited to clinical trials

Non-Pharmacological Therapy

Nutrition Therapy

  • Most patients with alcoholic hepatitis suffer some degree of malnutrition
  • Severity of malnutrition generally correlates with severity of liver disease
  • Protein calorie malnutrition is associated with high risk of cirrhosis complications (eg encephalopathy, ascites, infection)
  • Nutritional assessment should be on an ongoing basis
  • Long-term aggressive nutritional therapy is necessary
  • Daily nutrition considerations
    • Emphasize multiple feedings including breakfast and nighttime snack to improve nitrogen balance
    • Regular oral diet with increased dietary intakes (1-1.5 g/kg/day protein, 35-40 kcal/kg/day for energy)
    • Fluid and vitamin replacement, if deficient
  • Nutrition during acute illness or exacerbations
    • Above-normal protein and energy seem to improve protein calorie malnutrition (1.5-2 g/kg/day protein, 40-45 kcal/kg/day for energy)
  • May use enteral supplements in those with severe disease or in anorexic, hospitalized patients (conventional amino acid preparations may be used)
  • Patients with mild-moderate alcoholic hepatitis benefit from abstinence and nutrition therapy and will likely not require nor gain from medical treatment
  • Various nutritional products and supplements for alcoholic liver disease are available. Please see the latest MIMS for specific formulations and prescribing information
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