What is Alcohol Liver Disease?

Drinking alcohol consistently in moderate amounts over 10 to 20 years can cause alcohol liver disease. There are 3 types of liver conditions:
  1. Fatty liver
  2. Alcoholic hepatitis
  3. Cirrhosis

Fatty liver

Accumulation of fat within liver cells in most people who drink regularly. Fatty liver usually causes no symptoms and is completely reversible if one stops drinking alcohol. However in some who continue to drink this can progress into hepatitis.

Alcoholic hepatitis

It simple means inflammation of the liver. Ÿ Mild: Usually no symptoms, detected by blood tests showing abnormal liver enzymes. If this is persistent it can gradually damage the liver resulting in cirrhosis. This form of hepatitis can recover if one stops drinking completely. Ÿ Severe hepatitis: This tends to cause symptoms such as nausea, vomiting pain in the upper abdomen, jaundice( yellowing of the skin caused by high bilirubin level). In some cases this can lead to liver failure associated with clotting problems, bleeding, confusion , coma and can be fatal. Patients usually require admission and monitoring in hospital with complete abstinence from alcohol, proper nutrition along with supportive medical treatment. Some cases may need steroids or other antiinflammatory medication like pentoxyphylline. Unfortunately severe hepatitis has a poor outcome with only 50% chance of surviving beyond 3 months.

Alcoholic Cirrhosis

Cirrhosis means scarring of liver, whereby normal liver tissue is replaced by scarred tissue(fibrosis). The liver becomes shrunken. This happens gradually if the liver tissue is inflamed for a long period of time. The liver is usually able to repair itself with complete abstinence from alcohol, however it never recovers completely. By stopping drinking you can prevent further damage to your liver and reduce risk of decomposition . This term is often used by liver specialist to suggest onset of complications from poor liver function. The following complications can be potentially fatal.

  • Jaundice( yellow discolouration of eyes),
  • Ascites(swollen belly due to water retention),
  • Hepatic encephalopathy (confusion),
  • vomiting of blood from varices (swollen internal veins)
  • Liver cancer
  • Hepatorenal syndrome: (poor kidney function due to liver disease)
  • Malnutrition(poor intake of vitamins, minerals, protein from loss of appetite)

Most patients will require liver transplantation if there is no improvement in liver function after a period of abstinence from alcohol.

How to prevent alcoholic liver disease?

  • If you follow the recommended safe limits of alcohol consumption, you are unlikely to develop liver disease due to alcohol.
  • Men: Should not drink more than 21 units of alcohol / week( and no more than 4 units in any one day)
  • Women: should not exceed 14 units of alcohol/week (and no more than 3 units in any one day) Ÿ Pregnant women or women trying to conceive should avoid alcohol completely.
  • Avoid binge drinking as this is harmful, although the weekly total may not appear to be high. (e.g taking one bottle of wine in a day or 4-5 pints of beer in a day)