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Liver Disease And Alcohol

Liver Disease And Alcohol

Alcohol Liver Disease

Most people know that drinking heavily is not healthy, particularly for the liver, but many don’t know the extent of the damage that drinking does. Drinking has the potential to do life-altering, and life-threatening damage to the liver, one of the most vital organs in the body. If you or someone you care about is drinking heavily, this is an essential article for you to read, so that you may know what could potentially be happening to them, and what to look out for.

The Liver

The liver is our largest internal organ and one that people understand the least. It has hundreds of functions that keep both the mind and the body working correctly. Some of these functions include:

  • Aiding in the creation of blood clots
  • Creating bile to breakdown food
  • Storage of vitamins, minerals, and carbohydrates
  • Filters the blood from toxins and waste
  • Breaks down fats

These are just a tiny portion of the functions that the liver has in keeping a person healthy. Drinking heavily puts over 500 processes at risk, and can negatively impact a person’s health and well-being.

Current Damage

Alcohol is taking a significant toll on the health and well-being of the population as a whole. Most of this is coming from damage done to the liver, which is especially vulnerable to harm from drinking. Over a third of all deaths from liver disease in the UK are a direct result of drinking. In the past decade, there has been a 25% increase in deaths from liver disease, and alcohol is considered a direct contributor to that. Currently, 60% of people living with liver disease have it as a result of heavy drinking. Alcohol is not just putting one person’s life at risk; it has the potential to overwhelm the whole healthcare system.

Alcohol-Related Liver Disease

Alcohol-related liver disease (ARLD) is a product of lengthy, heavy drinking. This develops of time and is not the result of one bad weekend. It takes about eight years for ARLD to happen, with adult males drinking four or more pints of alcohol, and women two or more, daily. Although alcohol is not the only cause of liver disease; for example, viruses cause hepatitis, alcohol is one of the leading reasons for it.

Alcohol-related liver disease has four distinct stages:

Initial stage/mild fibrosis

This is the first stage in ARLD. Here the liver begins to get scarred by excessive drinking. Although it’s not built up yet, the scar tissue and hardening of the liver is causing symptoms and discomfort that a person can feel. Some signs of initial stage ARLD include feeling fatigued, nausea, lack of appetite, and stomach pain.

Alcohol hepatitis

This is the next stage of ARLD. Although it’s called hepatitis, it is not related to the virus that causes hepatitis. It is called this because this stage has similar effects on viral hepatitis. Here the liver will become inflamed and start to swell from damage done to it. The liver is being destroyed by alcohol use. Symptoms here include jaundice, fever, nausea and vomiting, stomach pain and increased liver scarring.

Cirrhosis

This is the third stage of alcohol-related liver disease. Cirrhosis is more commonly known, and at least 20% of people with an alcohol addiction will go through this stage. Here the liver is hardening from the scar tissue that has been building through the first two stages. It is clogging the liver, destroying healthy cells, and slowing its functioning, or preventing it from working correctly altogether. Cirrhosis early on has several symptoms early on that can point to liver damage being the main issue. These can include:

  • Fatigue
  • Weakness
  • Jaundice
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea/vomiting
  • Weight loss
  • Swelling in extremities
  • Itchy skin
  • Red, spiderweb-like veins in hands and face

Cirrhosis is the warning that treatment must happen immediately. If you see any of these symptoms within yourself and someone you love, please seek help as soon as you can.

The final stage of ARLD is end-stage liver disease. Cirrhosis is fatal if not treated. The results of untreated cirrhosis can include liver failure or liver cancer. Unhealthy or cancerous cells are spreading throughout the liver, as the scar tissue grows and healthy cells die. Symptoms of end-stage liver disease can include those of cirrhosis, as well as swollen or distended belly, excessive bleeding or difficulty forming blood clots, confusion and other cognitive problems, and vomiting blood. These are severe warning signs that a person’s life is in immediate danger.

Treatment

One of the most significant ways to treat alcohol-related liver disease is to quit drinking. The liver can regenerate itself, so damage can be partially reversed. The sooner that a person quits drinking, the sooner the damage stops, and the liver can begin to start healing itself. The liver is the only organ in the body capable of regenerating itself, so quitting drinking is one of the best forms of treatment for liver disease.

With that being said, there is also the reality that the liver can only heal so much damage. The sooner that a person quits drinking, the better the odds that they can recover. For people in end-stage liver disease, quitting alcohol can help lessen the symptoms. However, a lot of damage and scarring has already happened that may not be able to be overcome.

Preventing Alcoholic Liver Diseases

After you quit drinking, give your liver some time to heal. This is one of the situations where the diet can play a huge part in healing. Avoid fatty foods, and drink plenty of water to help flush out the system. Cut back on sugary foods and carbohydrates. Let the liver rest and heal without putting too much strain on it. And always consult with a physician about diet and health, especially if you are coping with ARLD.

Alcohol in excess damages the body in many ways, and one of the hardest-hit organs is the liver. While it can heal, it needs one important thing from you once you start to experience signs of alcohol-related liver disease. You need to quit drinking as soon as you can. If you or a loved one are experiencing symptoms of ARLD, please call for help right now. You can stop drinking and live a long and healthy life.

Watch the Liver Trust’s animated film about the liver, what it does, how vital it is, and how to prevent alcohol-related damage.

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