Alcoholic liver disease is the result of prolonged consumption of alcohol that damages the liver causing fat build-up, inflammation, and liver scarring. The condition might be fatal if precautions are not taken well in time. The liver is a complex organ of the body with more than 500 functions. These functions include energy storage, filtration of toxins, production of proteins and hormones, regulation of cholesterol and amino acids, etc. When the liver gets damaged, the whole body gets affected. Since the liver can regenerate and self-repair, it can take a long time for the damage to become noticeable. Alcohol consumption is just one consequence of liver damage. This is a serious issue because liver failure can be life-threatening.
Symptoms of Alcoholic Liver Disease
People with alcoholic liver disease experience no symptoms at the beginning, but symptoms become easy to recognize as the disease progresses. Symptoms tend to get worse after a period of binge drinking.
The early symptoms of liver disease are:
The later symptoms of liver disease are:
What causes Alcoholic Liver Disease?
Alcoholic liver disease occurs after years of excessive drinking. Over time, scarring and cirrhosis may occur. Cirrhosis is the terminal stage of alcoholic liver failure. This Acetaldehyde toxin damages the liver and leads to inflammation and scarring. This chemical affects some people more than others. Therefore, not all heavy drinkers develop liver damage.
Liver damage is more seen in people between 40-50 years of age, and it is more likely to be seen in men than in women.
Stages of Liver Disease
There are four main stages of alcoholic liver disease:
1. Alcoholic liver fatty disease: Consuming a large volume of alcohol for many years can cause fatty acid deposits in the liver. Usually, there are no specific symptoms at this stage, and it is often reversible if the individual abstains from the alcoholic beverages.
2. Alcoholic hepatitis: Continued alcohol use will cause inflammation in the liver. Individuals face these conditions after many years of heavy drinking. It might occur during periods of binge drinking. Alcoholic hepatitis is usually reversible if the individual avoids alcohol on a long-term basis.
3. Fibrosis: Fibrosis occurs when certain types of proteins, including collagen, builds-up in the liver. In fibrosis, the healthy tissues of the liver become scarred and cannot function properly. Mild to moderate form of fibrosis might be reversible. Continuous fibrosis and inflammation may lead to liver cancer.
4. Cirrhosis: Cirrhosis is the result of a long-term inflamed liver, which may lead to scarring and loss of function. Cirrhosis damage is irreversible; hence it is a life-threatening condition. However, the patient can avoid further damage by abstaining from alcohol. If the damage is not controlled, cirrhosis can lead to liver failure.
The risk of getting alcoholic liver disease increases in the following cases: