Alcoholic Liver Disease
Alcohol is toxic to the liver. Drinking heavily over a long period of time can cause damage to the liver. Alcoholic liver disease is disease of the liver caused by heavy drinking. There are several different types of alcoholic liver disease including:
- Bleeding varices
- Hepatic encephalopathy
- Chronic hepatitis
- Fatty liver
Alcoholic liver disease: Causes
Alcoholic liver disease occurs as a result of years of consuming large quantities of liquor. The higher quantity of alcohol consumed and the longer the period of time, the higher the risk for alcoholic liver disease. Certain risk factors, like a family history of liver problems or liver disease can increase the risk of developing alcoholic liver disease.
Alcoholic liver disease: Alcohol and your liver
The liver is the second largest organ in the body. It performs many jobs in the body including breaking down food and eliminating waste and harmful substances from the body. When you drink alcohol, it produces toxins, which the liver must remove from the blood. Alcohol blocks the normal function of the liver by blocking the normal breakdown of proteins, carbs, and fat from food. It also may cause the liver to swell, which can cause scarring. Large quantities of alcohol make the liver work harder to cleanse the blood. When you drink more alcohol than your liver can process, it can cause swelling and scarring to the liver.
Alcoholic liver disease: Types
The most common types of alcoholic liver disease are fatty liver disease, alcoholic hepatitis, and alcoholic cirrhosis.
Fatty liver disease is the buildup of extra fat in the liver cells. It is the earliest stage of alcoholic liver disease. Some fat in the liver is normal, but once it reaches a certain point, the fat interferes with the normal functioning of the liver and can cause scarring and liver cirrhosis. There are usually no symptoms.
Alcoholic hepatitis causes the liver to swell and become damaged. About 35% of drinkers develop alcoholic hepatitis. Symptoms include nausea, lack of appetite, abdominal pain, fever and jaundice.
Alcoholic cirrhosis is the scarring of the liver leading to poor liver function. The scar tissue blocks the flow of blood and slows down the processing of nutrients, hormones and drugs. Liver cirrhosis is generally the end-stage of liver disease and there is no reversing the damage. Treatment consists of preventing complications and progression of the scarring. Sometimes, a liver transplant is the only option. Liver cirrhosis is the 12th leading cause of death by disease. Symptoms of liver cirrhosis are similar to those of alcoholic hepatitis.
Alcoholic liver disease: Treatment
The first treatment of alcoholic liver disease is to stop drinking. This is the ONLY way to reverse liver damage or prevent the disease from getting worse. Once you have cirrhosis, however, you cannot reverse it, you can only prevent further damage by quitting drinking.
Nutrition is also an important factor in treating alcoholic liver disease. Doctors recommend a calorie-rich diet to help the liver regenerate. If the damage is too bad, the only option may be a liver transplant.
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