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Alcohol Clin Exp Res. 1991 Feb;15(1):45-66.

Alcoholic liver disease: pathologic, pathogenetic and clinical aspects.

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Department of Hepatic Pathology, Armed Forces Institute of Pathology, Washington, DC 20306-6000.

Erratum in

  • Alcohol Clin Exp Res 1991 Mar;15(2):180.


Alcoholic liver disease includes steatosis, alcoholic hepatitis and cirrhosis. Other liver diseases of genetic origin, but with a curious association with alcohol intake, are hemochromatosis and porphyria cutanea tarda. The attribution of chronic hepatitis to alcohol intake remains speculative, and the association may reflect hepatitis C infection. Hepatic injury attributed to alcohol includes the changes reported in the fetal alcohol syndrome. Steatosis, the characteristic consequence of excess alcohol intake, is usually macrovesicular and rarely microvesicular. Acute intrahepatic cholestasis, which in rare instances accompanies steatosis, must be distinguished from other causes of intrahepatic cholestasis (e.g., drug-induced) and from mechanical obstruction of the intrahepatic bile ducts (e.g., pancreatitis, choledocholithiasis) before being accepted. Alcoholic hepatitis (steatonecrosis) is characterized by a constellation of lesions: steatosis, Mallory bodies (with or without a neutrophilic inflammatory response), megamitochondria, occlusive lesions of terminal hepatic venules, and a lattice-like pattern of pericellular fibrosis. All these lesions mainly affect zone 3 of the hepatic acinus. Other changes, observed at the ultrastructural level, are of importance in progression of the disease. They include widespread cytoplasmic shedding, and capillarization and defenestration of sinusoids. Progressive fibrosis complicating alcoholic hepatitis eventually leads to cirrhosis that is typically micronodular but can evolve to a mixed or macronodular pattern. Hepatocellular carcinoma occurs in 5 to 15% of patients with alcoholic liver disease. The clinical syndrome of alcoholic liver disease is the result of three factors--parenchymal insufficiency, portal hypertension and the clinical consequences of extrahepatic damage produced by alcohol. At the several phases of the life history of alcoholic liver disease, the individual factors play a different role. The clinical manifestations of alcoholic steatosis are mainly extrahepatic in origin. Those of alcoholic hepatitis reflect mainly parenchymal insufficiency and those of cirrhosis are mainly those of portal hypertension. Alcoholic liver injury appears to be generated by the effects of ethanol metabolism and the toxic effects of acetaldehyde, perhaps the immune responses to alcohol- or acetaldehyde-altered proteins, and questionably enhanced by viral hepatitis. Alcoholic hepatitis may be mimicked histologically, and to a varying degree clinically, by a number of conditions (obesity, diabetes, several drug-induced injuries, jejunoileal bypass, and related "shortcircuiting" of the bowel). Perhaps the most important facet of the hepatotoxicity of alcohol is its enhancement of the effects of a number of other hepatotoxic agents, among which acetaminophen is the prime example.

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