Postgrad Med J 76:280-286 doi:10.1136/pmj.76.895.280
  • Review

Alcoholic liver disease

  1. Kevin Walsh,
  2. Graeme Alexander
  1. Department of Medicine, University of Cambridge, Box 157, Addenbrooke's Hospital, Cambridge CB2 2QQ, UK
  1. Dr Alexander
  • Received 3 June 1999
  • Accepted 6 September 1999


Alcohol is a major cause of liver cirrhosis in the Western world and accounts for the majority of cases of liver cirrhosis seen in district general hospitals in the UK. The three most widely recognised forms of alcoholic liver disease are alcoholic fatty liver (steatosis), acute alcoholic hepatitis, and alcoholic cirrhosis. The exact pathogenesis of alcoholic liver injury is still not clear but immune mediated and free radical hepatic injury are thought to be important. There is increasing interest in genetic factors predisposing to hepatic injury in susceptible individuals. Diagnosis is based on accurate history, raised serum markers such as γ-glutamyltransferase, mean corpuscular volume, and IgA and liver histology when obtainable. Abstinence is the most important aspect of treatment. Newer drugs such as acamprosate and naltrexone are used to reduce alcohol craving. Vitamin supplements and nutrition are vital while corticosteroids have a role in acute alcoholic hepatitis where there is no evidence of gastrointestinal haemorrhage or sepsis. Liver transplantation has excellent results in abstinent patients with end stage liver disease but there are concerns about recidivism after transplant.