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About Your Liver : Alcoholic liver disease

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Alcoholic liver disease is damage to the liver and its function due to alcohol abuse.

Alcoholic liver disease occurs after years of heavy drinking (more than 10 units per week, each unit being equal to 30ml of whisky/a glass of wine/beer or equivalent). It initially causes fat deposits in the liver. If the damage continues, it causes inflammation in the liver. Over time, scarring and cirrhosis can occur. Cirrhosis is the final phase of alcoholic liver disease.

Alcoholic liver disease does not occur in all heavy drinkers. On the other hand, you do not have to get drunk for the disease to happen.The chances of getting liver disease go up the longer you have been drinking and more alcohol you consume. Whether and with what amount of alcohol a person will develop serious liver damage also depends on individual metabolic capacity and the genetic make up.

The disease seems to be more common in some families. Women may be more likely to have this problem than men. 

Symptoms vary, based on how bad the disease is. You may not have symptoms in the early stages. Symptoms tend to be worse after a period of heavy drinking.

Abdominal symptoms include:

  • Pain and swelling in the abdomen due to collection of water (termed ascites)
  • Decreased appetite and weight loss
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Fatigue
  • Dry mouth and increased thirst
  • Bleeding from enlarged veins in the walls of the lower part of the esophagus (tube that connects your throat to your stomach)

Skin problems such as:

  • Yellow color in the skin, mucus membranes, or eyes (jaundice)
  • Small, red spider-like veins on the skin
  • Very dark or pale skin
  • Redness on the feet or hands
  • Itching

Brain and nervous system symptoms include:
Problems with thinking, memory, and mood
Fainting and lightheadedness
Numbness in legs and feet

Exams and Tests

  • Complete blood count (CBC), prothrombin time
  • Liver function tests
  • Ultrasound of the abdomen
  • Endoscopy
  • Abdominal CT scan

Tests to rule out other liver diseases include:
Blood tests such as Hepatitis B, Hepatitits C, Autoimmune disease

The most important part of treatment is to stop using alcohol completely. If liver cirrhosis has not yet occurred, the liver can heal if you stop drinking alcohol. Once cirrhosis develops, it is irreversible.

An alcohol rehabilitation program or counseling may be necessary to break the alcohol addiction. Vitamins, especially B-complex and folic acid, provide some nutrients that are deficient due to malnutrition.

If cirrhosis develops, you must be montored by a liver specialist to manage the potential complications of cirrhosis. Eventually, you may need a liver transplant if there has been a lot of liver damage.

Outlook (Prognosis)

Continued excessive drinking can shorten your lifespan. Your risk for complications such as bleeding, brain changes, and severe liver damage go up. The outcome will be poor if you keep drinking.

When to Contact a Medical Professional
Call a liver doctor if:

  • You develop symptoms of alcoholic liver disease.
  • You develop symptoms after a binge of heavy drinking.
  • You are worried that drinking may be harming your health.

Do’s and don’ts

  • Drink in moderation, i.e., not more than 10 units per week.
  • Do not drink on empty stomach
  • Do not ignore food - you must have normal quantities of nutritious food. One of the major problems
    with excess alcohol is that it blunts appetite and leads to malnourishment and dietary deficiencies.
  • Drink a lot of non-alcoholic fluids especially lemonade after consuming alcohol.
  • Never drink alone
  • Avoid mixing your drinks
  • DO NOT take alcohol if you have a known liver disease
  • Take "alcohol-free breaks" say 3 months in a year. This helps in partial recovery of the liver damage

Talk to your doctor about your alcohol intake. The doctor can counsel you about how much alcohol is safe for you.


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Liver Talk By Dr. Soin