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All About Alcoholic Liver Disease

Written and reviewed by
Dr. Neeraj Nagaich 89% (168 ratings)
DM - Gastroenterology
Gastroenterologist, Jaipur  •  7 years experience
All About Alcoholic Liver Disease

The largest internal organ in the body, the liver, is also one of the silent heroes, which performs close to 500 functions. It produces energy, fights infections, gets rid of wastes, and is a metabolic factory.

There are four major types of liver diseases out of which alcoholic liver disease accounts for about 40% of them. Other types include non-alcoholic liver disease, viral hepatitis and autoimmune (chronic) hepatitis.

Risk factors: The severity of drinking habit is directly proportional to the chances of developing alcoholic liver disease. People who consume more amount of alcohol are more likely to develop the disease. However, it is also not necessary that every person who consumes alcohol develops liver disease.

Following are obvious risk factors for developing alcoholic liver disease.

1. Alcohol dependency: While enjoying a drink is not barred, getting the body dependent on alcohol for regular functioning is definitely a no-no. The rate of developing the disease in people dependent on alcohol is as high as 70%.

2. Females: The way alcohol is metabolized in females could have an effect on the higher risk they face in developing alcoholic liver disease.

3. Obesity: Excessive weight puts additional stress on the metabolic effects of the liver and therefore has a higher tendency to develop alcoholic liver disease.

4. Family history: Strong familial history increases the risk of developing alcoholic liver disease.

Symptoms: The difficulty in diagnosing the disease lies in the fact that there are no clear-cut symptoms that can indicate the diagnosis. Initial general symptoms include fatigue, poor appetite, abdominal pain, nausea, weight loss, loss of energy, and red spider nevi (spider-like blood vessels) on the skin.

As the liver function continues to worsen, there are additional symptoms like swelling of the legs due to fluid accumulation, swelling of the abdomen, jaundice (yellow mucous membranes and skin), redness of palms, impotence, breast swelling, easy bruising, cognitive problems and clay-colored stools. This stage will see liver scarring and subsequent cirrhosis. The second set of symptoms is more diagnostic. An experienced practitioner will be able to suspect and diagnose the alcoholic disease with a detailed history and some liver function tests.

Treatment: If identified early and alcohol habits are reversed, the damages of the liver can be completely reversed. In addition, the following lifestyle changes are suggested:

1. Low-salt diet

2. Hepatitis vaccines (A and B)

3. Medications to manage fluid retention, spontaneous bleeding and infections as the case may be

4. Excessive fluid accumulation in the abdomen may require removal

5. Shunt in the liver to repair blood flow

6. If cirrhosis stage is reached, a liver transplant may be required

While there are many ways to manage alcoholic liver disease, prevention is the best way. Limiting alcohol consumption can definitely help in the prevention of the disease. If you wish to discuss about any specific problem, you can consult a Gastroenterologist.

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