One of the major organs in the human body is the liver. It is also one of the most vital organs which are tasked with filtering toxins from the blood, creating bile to help in the absorption of fats, and breaking down protein. However, for a person who has alcoholic liver disease, the liver is damaged and no longer does its job effectively. So, what is alcoholic liver disease and how can it be avoided?
What Is Alcoholic Liver Disease?
The overconsumption of alcohol results in alcoholic liver disease (ALD). This disease leads to inflammation, scarring, and buildup of fats. Damage to the liver affects the functions of the body as a whole.
In a report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in 2014, the deaths from this disease alone reached 19,388. On the other hand, liver cirrhosis and chronic liver disease have an estimated 12 deaths per 100,000 individuals in a year.
Stages of ALD and Its Symptoms
ALD happens in three stages, namely alcoholic fatty liver disease, alcoholic hepatitis, and liver cirrhosis.
1. Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease
It is also called steatosis and is one of the most prevalent diseases of the liver. Consuming excessive amounts of alcohol leads to an accumulation of fatty acids in the liver. This buildup of fats inhibits the liver from functioning well. This stage of ALD shows no symptoms, but the damages caused to the liver can be reversed as long as the individual affected abstains from alcohol.
2. Alcoholic Hepatitis
This stage is characterized by liver inflammation which then leads to the quick degeneration of the liver’s cells. A person reaches this stage of ALD if alcohol consumption is continued and may progress to severe damages to the liver if they continue to drink alcohol. The symptoms associated with this stage include the following:
- Abdominal Tenderness
- Loss of Appetite
- Nausea and Vomiting
- Weight Loss
3. Liver Cirrhosis
This stage of ALD occurs when the liver has suffered from inflammation for a prolonged period. It is at this stage that scarring occurs and leads to total loss of liver function. It is life-threatening, and the damages are irreversible. Apart from the symptoms associated with liver failure, other manifestations in this stage include:
- Accumulation of Fluid in the Abdomen
- Bleeding from the Veins
- Enlargement of the Spleen
When Should You See a Doctor?
ALD is a life-threatening disease. So, it is best to get immediate medical attention if you notice the aforementioned symptoms. It is also vital to consult with your doctor if you have trouble controlling your alcohol intake or if you need help on cutting back on your alcohol intake.
Complications of ALD
Severe liver damage leads to scarring, and scar tissue buildup can cause a variety of other health problems. These complications may occur.
Varices or Enlarged Veins
Due to the scar tissue, an obstruction may occur. With the blockage in place, proper blood circulation is impeded. Blood that doesn’t flow into portal veins heads into other blood vessels such as in the esophagus and the stomach.
Due to the accumulation of blood in the abdomen, the infection may occur. Antibiotics usually treat the infection.
A damaged liver is inefficient at removing toxins in the blood. The result is an accumulation of toxins that may cause further injury to the brain. This complication, when left untreated, could lead to a coma.
The quality of blood flow is affected when the liver is damaged. This, in turn, also damages the kidneys that receive the blood laden with toxins.
Before a diagnosis is made, your doctor would require complete honesty with regards to your history of drinking. In addition, your medical history would also be recorded. More tests are done to test for a disease affecting the liver. Some of the recommended tests done include the following:
- Blood Test
- Liver Function Test
- CT Scan, MRI Scan, and Ultrasound of the Liver
Your physician may also request a liver biopsy if you are at risk for hepatitis or other diseases.
The damages of ALD can be reversed as long as it is within the first two stages of the disease. Take note; however, that alcoholic liver cirrhosis cannot be reversed. Your attending physician will recommend another treatment to reduce symptoms of the disease and slow the progression of the disease.
In treating ALD, the first step is abstinence. Removing alcohol from your diet is the most important step. Doctors recommend a treatment facility where your journey to sobriety starts. Abstinence reverses the effects of the early stage of ALD.
If you’ve been diagnosed with alcoholic fatty liver disease, then abstaining from alcohol for two to six weeks can reverse your condition. Alcohol should be avoided because damages that have been reversed are likely to return once you resume drinking alcohol.
2. Lifestyle Changes
Apart from avoiding alcohol intake, it is also recommended that individuals make changes to their lifestyle, especially if they smoke or are overweight. According to studies, smoking and excess weight play a role in worsening ALD. Adding multivitamins to one’s diet is also recommended.
For people who have been diagnosed with acute alcoholic hepatitis, medications prescribed are those focused on lessening inflammation. Other medications for ALD include calcium channel blockers, antioxidant supplements, insulin, S-adenosyl-L-methionine (SAMe), and corticosteroids.
On the other hand, individuals abstaining from alcohol are advised to take medications that prevent relapse. These medications include disulfiram, baclofen, topiramate, naltrexone, and acamprosate.
4. Liver Transplant
When the liver no longer functions properly, this is the case of liver failure. For survival, the only treatment available is a liver transplant. However, this is a very complicated process which wholly depends on the availability of a suitable liver donor. Moreover, anti-rejection meds that are injected after a liver transplant puts the person at risk for certain cancers and other severe infections.
Plus, individuals who have stayed sober for six months or more prior to the procedure are considered a suitable candidate. This makes sure that the person’s organs are healthy before the transplant.
The effects of alcoholic liver disease can be reversed as long as it is within the early stages and total abstinence is followed.