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Curriculum based clinical reviews
Diagnosis and treatment of alcoholic hepatitis
  1. R Parker1,2,
  2. C A McCune3
  1. 1NIHR Centre for Liver Research, University of Birmingham, Birmingham, UK
  2. 2Liver Unit, University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust, Birmingham, UK
  3. 3Department of Liver Medicine, University Hospitals Bristol NHS Foundation Trust, Bristol, UK
  1. Correspondence to Dr Richard Parker, NIHR Centre for Liver Research, University of Birmingham, Birmingham B15 2TT, UK; richardparker{at}


Alcoholic liver disease (ALD) is increasing in incidence in the UK. It is the commonest cause of liver-related deaths, predominantly in people below the age of 60. Alcoholic hepatitis (AH) is an acute form of ALD with high mortality when severe. Jaundice and coagulopathy are clinical hallmarks of severe AH. Histology findings are characterised by parenchymal inflammation and hepatocellular damage although biopsy is only required when diagnostic uncertainty exists; clinical findings are usually sufficient for accurate diagnosis. Patients with AH should be stratified as non-severe or severe using non-invasive scoring systems such as the discriminant function or the Glasgow Alcoholic Hepatitis Score. In patients with non-severe AH, abstinence is the mainstay of treatment, and it is important that steps are taken to help patients stop drinking. Severe AH requires specialist treatment. Consensus guidelines recommend the use of prednisolone although this remains subject to clinical trials. Pentoxifylline may have a survival benefit if corticosteroids are contraindicated. Nutritional support and N-acetylcysteine should be considered for use in conjunction with corticosteroids although evidence of benefit is not conclusive. Patients with severe disease who do not respond to therapy within a week have a very poor outcome. Recent data have shown a survival benefit of liver transplantation in this group although this remains experimental at present. Current and future research should focus on targeted therapies for severe AH and those who fail first-line treatment.

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