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Alcoholic steatohepatitis, Dangers, Symptoms, Causes, Risk Factors, Prevention & Treatment

What is alcoholic steatohepatitis (Fatty Liver Disease)?

Alcoholic Steatohepatitis is a chronic, progressive liver disease characterized by thickening and scarring (fibrosis) of the liver as well as possible death (necrosis) of the liver tissue, brought on by excessive, prolonged alcohol abuse. Alcohol consumption of more than 60-80 ml per day for men or 40-50 ml per day for women is considered toxic.

Duration is also a key factor. The risk of alcoholic steatohepatitis is higher if these elevated levels of alcohol are consumed regularly over the course of five years or more. Women are more susceptible to the disease because alcohol metabolism is lower in women than in men. Genetics may play a particular part in susceptibility as well. Among other factors are nutrition and the existence of chronic hepatitis B or chronic hepatitis C.

Fatty liver disease means you have extra fat in your liver. You might hear your doctor call it hepatic steatosis. Heavy drinking makes you more likely to get it. Over time, too much alcohol leads to a buildup of fat inside your liver cells. This makes it harder for your liver to work. But you can get the fatty liver disease even if you don’t drink a lot of alcohol.

Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD)

There are two different types of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease:

Simple fatty liver: This means you have fat in your liver, but you may not have any inflammation in your liver or damage to your liver cells. It usually doesn’t get worse or cause problems with your liver. Most people with NAFLD have simple fatty liver.

Alcoholic Steatohepatitis
Alcoholic Steatohepatitis is a chronic, progressive liver disease brought on by excessive, prolonged alcohol abuse.

Nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH): This is much more serious than a simple fatty liver. NASH means you have inflammation in your liver. The inflammation and liver cell damage that happen with NASH can cause serious problems such as fibrosis and cirrhosis, which are types of liver scarring, and liver cancer. About 20% of people with NAFLD have NASH.

Dangers of alcoholic steatohepatitis

alcoholic steatohepatitis is preventable. It usually gets better when you stop drinking alcohol. If you keep drinking, ALD can cause serious problems. These include:

  • Enlarged liver: It doesn’t always cause symptoms, but you may have pain or discomfort on the upper right side of your belly.
  • Alcoholic hepatitis: This is swelling in the liver that can cause fever, nausea, vomiting, belly pain, and jaundice (yellowish skin and eyes).
  • Alcoholic cirrhosis: This is a buildup of scar tissue in your liver. It can cause the same symptoms as alcoholic hepatitis plus:
    • Large amounts of fluid buildup in your belly (the doctor will call it ascites)
    • High blood pressure in the liver
    • Bleeding in your body
    • Confusion and changes in behavior
    • Enlarged spleen
    • Liver failure, which can be fatal

Alcohol-related fatty liver disease usually comes first. It can then get worse and become alcoholic hepatitis. Over time, it may turn into alcoholic cirrhosis. If you drink heavily, talk with your doctor. It’s confidential, and they can help you get your drinking under control to save your health.

Alcoholic steatohepatitis
Alcoholic steatohepatitis is preventable. It usually gets better when you stop drinking alcohol. If you keep drinking, ALD can cause serious problems.

Symptoms of Alcoholic steatohepatitis

With ALD and NAFLD, there are usually no symptoms. Some people may have signs such as tiredness or pain in the upper right side of the belly where your liver is.

If you have NASH or get cirrhosis, you may have symptoms such as:

  • Swollen belly
  • Enlarged blood vessels underneath your skin
  • Larger-than-normal breasts in men
  • Red palms
  • Skin and eyes that appear yellowish, due to a condition called jaundice

Causes and Risk Factors of Alcoholic steatohepatitis

For ALD, the cause is too much alcohol. You may be even more likely to get it if you drink a lot and

  • Have genes that make you more likely to get it
  • Are an African-American or Hispanic male
  • Age: the older you are, the more likely it becomes.
  • Are obese
  • Are malnourished
  • Have chronic viral hepatitis, especially hepatitis C

The reason why some people with NAFLD have simple fatty liver and others get NASH isn’t known. Genes may be a reason. NAFLD or NASH is more likely if:

  • You’re overweight or obese
  • Your body doesn’t respond to insulin as it should (called insulin resistance) or if you have type 2 diabetes
  • You have high levels of triglycerides or “bad” (LDL) cholesterol, or low levels of “good” (HDL) cholesterol
  • You’re older
  • You have polycystic ovary syndrome
  • You have sleep apnea
  • You have an underactive thyroid (the doctor will call this hypothyroidism)
  • You have an underactive pituitary gland (you’ll hear this called hypopituitarism)
  • You’re malnourished
  • You’ve lost weight rapidly
  • You’ve been exposed to certain toxins and chemicals
  • You have metabolic syndrome. This is a mix of conditions that make you more likely to get type 2 diabetes and heart disease.With metabolic syndrome, you may have any three of these conditions:
    • Large waist size
    • High triglycerides or LDL cholesterol
    • Low levels of HDL (good) cholesterol
    • High blood pressure
    • High blood sugar

There are also some less common reasons why you may get NAFLD or NASH. They include:

  • Taking certain medicines such as glucocorticoids, methotrexate (Rheumatrex, Trexall), synthetic estrogen, tamoxifen (Nolvadex, Soltamox), and others
  • Gallbladder removal. Some people who have surgery to remove their gallbladder are more likely to have NAFLD.
  • Medical conditions that affect how your body uses or stores fat
  • Hepatitis C or other infections
  • Fast weight loss

Diagnosing Alcoholic steatohepatitis

Because most people don’t have symptoms, these conditions aren’t easy to diagnose. Your doctor may use different methods to find out if you have fatty liver disease. Some of the things your doctor may use to diagnose the fatty liver disease are:

  • Health history: Your doctor will ask about your alcohol use. This information can help your doctor tell if you have ALD or NAFLD, so be truthful. They’ll also ask about medications you take, how you eat, and other health conditions you might have.
  • Physical exam: Your doctor weighs you and checks your body for signs of liver problems such as an enlarged liver or jaundice.
  • Blood tests: These can show if you have high levels of liver enzymes such as alanine aminotransferase (ALT) and aspartate aminotransferase (AST). If so, there could be a problem with your liver.
  • Imaging tests: You may get an ultrasound, computerized tomography (CT) scans, or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). These tests can help show if there’s any fat in your liver. But they can’t tell whether you have simple fatty liver or NASH
  • Liver biopsy: Not everyone with NAFLD needs to have a liver biopsy. Your doctor may recommend it if you’re at risk for NASH or if other tests show that you may have NASH complications such as cirrhosis. A doctor removes a sample of tissue from your liver and sends it to a lab to see if you have liver inflammation or damage. You’ll get this done at a hospital or outpatient surgery center. Before the procedure, you’ll get medicine to help you relax or control pain. For the biopsy, your doctor numbs the area and uses a special needle to take a small piece of tissue from your liver. A liver biopsy is the only way for doctors to diagnose NASH.
Alcoholic steatohepatitis
Because most people don’t have symptoms, these conditions aren’t easy to diagnose. Your doctor may use different methods to find out if you have alcoholic steatohepatitis

Treatment for Alcoholic steatohepatitis (Fatty Liver Disease)

There are no medications approved for NAFLD, though some are in clinical trials. Usually, the first line of treatment is to lose weight. It helps reduce fat, inflammation, and scarring in your liver. Losing just 3% to 5% of your body weight can cut down on how much fat is in your liver. Weight loss surgery is also an option if you have a lot to lose.

Self-Care for Alcoholic steatohepatitis (Fatty Liver Disease)

Lifestyle changes can help:

  • Exercise more: Try to be active at least 30 minutes a day most days of the week. If you’re trying to lose weight, you might find that it helps to exercise more. But if you don’t already exercise regularly, get your doctor’s OK first and start slowly.
  • Be kind to your liver: Don’t do things that will make it work harder. Skip alcohol. Take medications and over-the-counter drugs only as instructed. Talk to your doctor before you try any herbal remedies. Just because a product is natural, that doesn’t mean it’s safe.
  • Get your cholesterol down: Eat a healthy plant-based diet, exercise, and take your medications. This will get — and keep — your cholesterol and your triglyceride levels where they need to be
  • Manage your diabetes: Check your blood sugar, and take medications as your doctor prescribes.

Complications of Alcoholic steatohepatitis (Fatty Liver Disease)

The main complication for all these conditions is cirrhosis or scarring of your liver. As your liver tries to stop the inflammation that comes with these conditions, it creates areas of scars. As inflammation spreads, so do the scars, and eventually, your liver can’t do its job. That can result in:

  • Fluid buildup in your abdomen
  • Swollen veins in your esophagus that can burst and bleed
  • Confusion and drowsiness
  • Liver cancer
  • Liver failure

Can You Prevent Alcoholic steatohepatitis (Fatty Liver Disease)?

To prevent ALD:

  • Drink in moderation: That’s one drink a day for women and men over 65 and up to two for men 65 and younger.
  • Protect yourself from hepatitis C: This viral liver infection can make you more likely to get cirrhosis if you drink.
  • Check before you mix meds and alcohol: Ask your doctor if it’s OK to drink alcohol with the prescription medications you’re taking. Read the warning label on over-the-counter meds. Don’t drink when you’re taking products like acetaminophen, which can damage your liver when combined with alcohol.

Prevent Alcoholic Steatohepatitis with Alcoholism Treatment

Alcoholic Steatohepatitis is a chronic, progressive liver disease brought on by excessive, prolonged alcohol abuse. Alcoholism is a serious disease that should not be taken lightly. We Level Up California can provide to you, or someone you love, the tools to recover from this disease with professional and safe treatment. Feel free to call us to speak with one of our counselors. We can inform you about this condition by giving you relevant information. Our specialists know what you are going through. Please know that each call is private and confidential.


[1] Alcohol-Related Liver Disease (Merck & Co., Inc.)

[2] Definition and Facts of NAFLD and NASH (National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases)

[3] Diagnosis of NAFLD and NASH (National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases)

[4] Eating, Diet, and Nutrition for NAFLD and NASH (National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases)

[5] Elastography  (National Library of Medicine)Also in Spanish