Question and answer

Complications of alcoholic hepatitis include:

  • Increased blood pressure in the portal vein. Blood from your intestine, spleen and pancreas enters your liver through a large blood vessel called the portal vein. If scar tissue slows normal circulation through the liver, this blood backs up, leading to increased pressure within the vein (portal hypertension).
  • Enlarged veins (varices). When circulation through the portal vein is blocked, blood may back up into other blood vessels in the stomach and esophagus. These blood vessels are thin walled, and because they're filled with more blood than they're meant to carry, they're likely to bleed. Massive bleeding in the upper stomach or esophagus from these blood vessels is a life-threatening emergency that requires immediate medical care.
  • Fluid retention. Alcoholic hepatitis can cause large amounts of fluid to accumulate in your abdominal cavity (ascites). The fluid may become infected and require treatment with antibiotics. Although not life-threatening in itself, ascites is usually a sign of advanced alcoholic hepatitis or cirrhosis.
  • Jaundice. This occurs when your liver isn't able to remove bilirubin — the residue of old red blood cells — from your blood. Bilirubin builds up and is deposited in your skin and the whites of your eyes, causing a yellow color.
  • Hepatic encephalopathy. A liver damaged by alcoholic hepatitis has trouble removing toxins from your body — normally one of the liver's key tasks. The buildup of toxins can damage your brain, leading to changes in your mental state, behavior and personality (hepatic encephalopathy). Signs and symptoms of hepatic encephalopathy include forgetfulness, confusion and mood changes, and in the most severe cases, coma.
  • Scarred liver (cirrhosis). Over time, the liver inflammation that occurs in alcoholic hepatitis can cause irreversible scarring of the liver (cirrhosis). Cirrhosis frequently leads to liver failure, which occurs when the damaged liver is no longer able to adequately function.
  • Kidney failure.