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Alcohol and the Liver - How Alcohol Damages the Liver?

Dr Rishika Agarwal 2845 Views
Updated: 19 Jan 2024
Published: 05 Dec 2019
Alcohol Damages the Liver

Alcohol-related liver disease (ARLD) happens when the liver is damaged by years of excessive drinking. The liver becomes inflamed and swollen due to years of alcohol abuse. This damage also causes scarring called cirrhosis. Cirrhosis is the final stage of liver disease.

ARLD is a supreme public health problem. Heavy drinking is classified as more than 8 alcoholic beverages per week for women and more than 15 for men. Liver disease is just one of the consequences of excessive alcohol consumption. It is especially a serious issue because liver failure can be fatal.

The liver performs the task of breaking down and filtering out harmful substances in the blood, and manufacturing proteins, enzymes, and hormones that the body uses to ward off infections. It also changes vitamins, nutrients, and medicines into substances that our bodies can use. The liver is also responsible for cleaning our blood, producing bile for digestion and storing glycogen for energy. The liver processes over 90% of alcohol consumed. The rest departs the body via urine, sweat, and breathing.

It takes the body approximately an hour to process an alcoholic beverage. This time frame rises with each drink. The higher an individual’s blood alcohol content, the longer it takes to process alcohol. The liver can only process a particular amount of alcohol at a time. When someone drinks too much, the alcohol left unprocessed by the liver circulates through the bloodstream. Alcohol in the blood begins affecting the heart and brain, which is the reason for people getting intoxicated.

Causes of Alcohol Consumption on the liver:

ARLD occurs in 3 stages viz. Fatty Liver, Alcoholic Hepatitis, and Liver Cirrhosis.

Fatty Liver

It is the first stage of ALD and is also called steatosis. Fatty Liver is a highly prevalent liver disease that is caused by an excessive accumulation of fat inside the liver cells. In such a situation, it becomes very difficult for the liver to function properly. Heavy drinkers usually go through to the fatty liver stage in their initial years of alcohol abuse. This can be reversed if alcohol use is stopped.

Alcoholic Hepatitis

Alcoholic Hepatitis is the second stage of ALD and it is characterized by the inflammation of the liver leading to the degeneration of liver cells quickly. This stage might last for a few years but it will eventually progress to liver damage if the patient continues to drink. In critical cases, it can lead to complications like liver cirrhosis and absolute liver damage which is life-threatening.

Liver Cirrhosis

This is the final stage of Alcoholic Liver Disease where permanent scarring of the healthy liver tissue occurs. It is a severe condition and an irreversible one. A liver cirrhosis patient will witness liver failure symptoms along with the symptoms of alcoholic hepatitis.

Common symptoms of Alcohol-Related Liver Disease:

  • Yellowish skin and eyes (jaundice)
  • Swelling in legs and ankles (edema)
  • Dark urine
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Abdominal pain and swelling
  • Itchy skin
  • Weight Loss
  • Discolored stool
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Fever
  • Tendency to bruise easily
  • Weakness
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nosebleeds
  • Pale, bloody, or tar-colored stool
  • Disorientation

Treatment Options for Alcoholic Liver Diseases:

Abstinence

Complete abstinence from alcohol is the most vital therapeutic intervention for people with Alcoholic Liver Disease. Avoiding alcohol reduces the risk of further damage to the liver and also provides it with a chance to recover. Abstinence from alcohol eventually improves survival at all ALD stages.

Nutritional Therapy

Perhaps the chief complication of ALD is malnutrition, especially in patients who are in the second stage of alcoholic hepatitis. Patients in any stage of alcoholic liver disease must consult a hepatologist and get start with a nutritional therapy as soon as possible. It helps in alleviating the symptoms and improving the current condition of the liver.

Medications (Pharmacological Therapy)

A hepatologist is likely to prescribe various drugs and medications after carefully screening the symptoms and stages of the disease to an ALD patient.

Liver Transplant

A liver transplant may be the ultimate treatment which will be the last straw in extreme medical cases. In severe cases of ALD, where the liver has stopped functioning and there is no point of improvement even after the patient stops drinking, a liver transplant might be suggested. The consideration for a liver transplant is only taken when the patient has developed complications of cirrhosis or if the body does not respond to other treatments including medications.

If someone or people you may know has a heavy drinking habit or is facing the symptoms mentioned above, it is advised to them to take a liver test timely and getting in touch with a specialist for expert advice. Take preventive steps to secure your future and get tested now.

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