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Alcohol and Hepatitis C

Four Reasons to Not Drink Alcohol if You Have Chronic Hepatitis C

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Updated May 06, 2014

Alcohol and Hepatitis C

Because alcohol is a toxin to the liver, people with chronic hepatitis C should avoid alcohol.

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Did you know that someone who has both chronic hepatitis C and a history of alcoholism has an increased chance of developing liver disease? That's because these conditions work together to promote the development and progression of liver disease more efficiently than either cause generally will by itself. Let's be clear. Alcoholism doesn't cause hepatitis C. While heavy drinking can lead to a form of hepatitis (called alcoholic hepatitis), only infection with the hepatitis C virus causes chronic hepatitis C. However, for unclear reasons, hepatitis C has been found to be more common in people with a history of alcohol abuse. Let's take a look at four things heavy alcohol consumption can do to someone with chronic hepatitis C.

Increases Risk of Cirrhosis

Many studies show that people with chronic hepatitis C who drink alcohol have a higher chance of developing cirrhosis. There isn't agreement on how much alcohol will increase this risk, but it's possible that even small amounts will lead to more fibrosis (and extensive fibrosis leads to cirrhosis). Because of this relationship, most doctors advise that someone with chronic hepatitis C should completely avoid all types of alcoholic beverages (beer, wine, liquor).

Increases Number of Deaths from Chronic Hepatitis

Several studies show that people who abuse alcohol while chronically infected with hepatitis C are more likely to die than those who have hepatitis C and do not drink.

Increases Risk of Hepatocellular Carcinoma

Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) is a type of liver cancer that is a major complication of chronic hepatitis, especially from infections with hepatitis B and C viruses. Worldwide, liver cancer is common, and it's a leading cause of death in the United States. People with both alcoholic liver disease and hepatitis C have a higher chance of developing HCC than those with hepatitis C infection alone.

Decreases the Effectiveness of Treating with Interferon

Currently, taking a combination of two drugs, peginterferon and ribavirin, is the standard treatment for chronic hepatitis C. However, studies suggest that interferon therapy may not work as well in heavy drinkers, though this may be related to reduced compliance while drinking heavily. Because of this, it's recommended that people completely stop drinking before starting treatment.

Sources:

Dienstag, JL. "Chronic Hepatitis." Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine 17e. 2008.

Szabo G, Marshall CA, Chopra, S. Hepatitis C and Alcohol. UpToDate. Accessed: March 14, 2009.

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