As the second largest organ in the human body, the liver preforms many functions, but, most importantly, it removes harmful substances from blood. The liver normally breaks down alcohol as a process of removing toxins from the body. But, when alcohol is abused, liver cells can be damaged and excessive, long-term drinking can cause serious, irreversible harm to the liver.
Although not all heavy drinkers develop liver disease, extended periods of drinking and large quantities of alcohol greatly increase the chances of acquiring the disease.
Alcohol-related liver damage manifests in three diseases: Alcoholic fatty liver disease, alcoholic hepatitis, and alcoholic cirrhosis.
Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease
The initial stage of alcohol-related liver disease results from the deposit of fat on liver cells. Unfortunately, there are typically no symptoms and tests for liver function often return normal. But when symptoms do occur, they may include discomfort in the abdomen, fatigue, or weakness. Many heavy drinkers suffer from fatty liver disease, though it may be reversible with abstinence from alcohol.
Alcoholic hepatitis can be mild or severe, and is often accompanied by fat deposits on live cells, mild scarring, and inflammation of the liver. Symptoms include poor appetite, weight loss, nausea, vomiting, jaundice and fever. When tested, liver functions show abnormal with elevated liver enzymes. Research indicates that up to thirty-five percent of heavy drinkers will develop alcoholic hepatitis. Though mild cases may be reversible with abstinece from alcohol, severe alcoholic hepatitis can have a sudden onset leading to liver failure and death.
As the most serious and dreaded liver disease, alcoholic cirrhosis occurs when scar tissue replaces healthy, soft tissue, resulting in disruption of normal live function. Statistically, ten to twenty percent of heavy drinkers develop cirrhosis. Symptoms are similar to severe alcoholic hepatitis, but may also include jaundice, inability to think clearly, buildup of fluid in the legs and abdomen, abnormal bleeding and bruising, clay-like or clay colored stools, redness on palms of hands, and men may notice testicles shrinkage and swelling of breast tissues. Although late stage cirrhosis is irreversible, abstinence from alcohol may prevent further damage and improve the symptoms.
Treatment of alcohol-related liver disease:
It is essential to seek medical help for alcohol-related liver disease. Severe cases may be irreversible and may require medications to help manage complications caused by liver damage. Abstinence from alcohol is universally advised. If you are or a loved one are suffering from liver damage, but cannot stop drinking, The Council on Recovery may be able to help. We are the starting place for people seeking outpatient rehab and counseling, as well as help for family members of loved ones who are struggling with alcoholism. Get help now by calling 713.942.4100 or visit www.councilonrecovery.org