Alcohol liver disease occurs when diseases affect the liver as a result of chronic alcohol consumption. This liver disease progresses from fatty infiltration to hepatitis then to cirrhosis. Studies reveal that alcohol consumption may cause from 20% to 50% cirrhosis of the liver, epilepsy, poisonings, road traffic accidents, violence and several types of cancer. Alcohol liver disease has three prevalent types which are fatty liver, alcohol hepatitis and alcohol cirrhosis.
It is a build-up of fat in the liver. This is not to say that fat is not present in the liver but an excess can become a health problem. The liver carries out lots of functions in the body. Some of which include metabolism or breakdown of food and drink. In addition, it helps to filter away harmful substances from the blood. This process becomes interrupted if too much fat is in the liver. Fatty liver is a reversible condition that lifestyle modifications can resolve. Fatty liver affects around 10 to 20 percent of Americans without cirrhosis or inflammation. Most cases of fatty liver are diagnosed in people between ages 40 and 60, according to the American Liver Foundation. There are no symptoms at this stage although the liver can get enlarge causing upper abdominal discomfort.
This is inflammation of the liver caused by chronic alcohol intake. It can progressively lead to degenerative changes in the cells and replacement of the liver cells with scar tissues (fibrosis). The rate of mortality in severe cases is about 50 percent. If heavy drinking continues, about 40 percent of cases of alcoholic hepatitis will develop into cirrhosis. Symptoms of hepatitis include fever, jaundice, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain and tenderness.
This is the progressive condition of the liver after chronic inflammatory processes (hepatitis). It is the most serious form of Alcohol Liver Disease and a cause of many deaths and serious illnesses.
In cirrhosis, scar tissue replaces normal liver tissue, thereby disrupting blood flow through the liver and preventing it from working properly. About 10 percent to 15 percent of people with alcoholism develop cirrhosis but many survive it. Many are unaware that they have it and about 30 percent to 40 percent of cirrhosis cases are discovered at autopsy (Anand 1999).
The 5 year survival rate for people with cirrhosis who stop drinking is about 90 percent, compared with 70 percent of those who do not stop drinking. Symptoms of liver cirrhosis includes: weight loss, loss of appetite, jaundice(yellowing ), liver enlargement and accumulation of fluid in the abdomen (ascites). Others are high blood pressure in the liver (portal hypertension), bleeding from veins in the oesophagus (oesophageal varices), behaviour changes and mental confusion and enlarged spleen.
Also Read: Effects of Alcohol on Men’s Health
Treatment of Alcohol Liver Disease
This is a major intervention to stopping alcohol-related diseases and preventing it from becoming worse. It is important to discuss treatment options with your healthcare provide. These can include counselling and medications. It can be dangerous to stop drinking alcohol suddenly. This can cause a rapid reduction in alcohol and can lead to withdrawal symptoms including anxiety, agitation, hallucinations and seizures. If you are physically addicted to alcohol, medical supervision in a detoxification (or detox) program will help to safely reduce your alcohol levels.
Weight loss is a common sign in alcoholics due to breakdown of alcohol in the body. Doctors recommend special diets, nutritional supplements which will provide nutrient and minerals that the body needs. Consuming balanced meals can help correct malnutrition.
Depending on the severity of the disease especially in hepatitis, medications like corticosteroids and pentoxifylline are useful to reduce inflammatory processes e.g. steroid prednisolone.
Doctors carry out liver transplant out in extreme cases of liver cirrhosis. Ordinarily, the liver replaces its worn cells. However, if unable to do so as a result of scarring of the liver cells, a liver transplant might be an option to consider.