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Alcoholic Liver Disease: How Much Alcohol Do You Drink?

Updated on September 20, 2018
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Jo has been an ITU nurse at the London North West NHS Trust for 14 years. She obtained her RN at University College London Hospital.

Alcoholic Liver Disease

What is Alcoholic Liver Disease?

Alcoholic Liver Disease is a term used to describe the damages done to the liver and its function when we abuse alcohol. The longer an individual abuse alcohol and the more alcohol they consume, the more likely they are of developing alcoholic liver disease. There are three main stages of alcoholic liver disease. Alcoholic fatty liver disease, alcoholic hepatitis, and cirrhosis.

In the UK, Alcoholic liver disease is widespread. As an Intensive care nurse, I have first hand experience of this. Alcohol abuse is a problem for young and old alike. It is sad to see so many young people literally killing themselves with alcohol binge drinking. Unfortunately, many are now showing signs of alcoholic liver disease.

An estimated 90 to 100% of heavy drinkers have alcoholic fatty liver disease; 1 in 4 of these will go on to develop alcoholic hepatitis. 1 in 5 alcohol drinkers with fatty acid liver disease will develop cirrhosis of the liver

Alcoholic fatty liver disease

Alcoholic fatty liver disease is the first stage of alcoholic liver disease. Heavy use of alcohol can lead to a build-up of fatty acid in the liver. The build up of fatty acid only causes noticeable symptoms when severe. However, this can be a major warning sign that the consumption of alcohol is a danger to health since a healthy liver contains little or no fat.

Symptoms in severe cases include:

  • weakness
  • nausea
  • loss of appetite
  • a general feeling of unwell
  • abdominal pain
  • tiredness

This stage is reversible if alcohol is stopped for about two weeks, giving the liver sufficient time to return to normal.

Alcoholic Hepatitis

Alcoholic Hepatitis is the second more severe stage of alcoholic liver disease.

When prolonged abuse of alcohol occurs over many years, it can cause the liver tissue to become inflamed, the condition is known as alcoholic hepatitis. Alcoholic hepatitis can also occur if a large amount of alcohol is consumed within a short space of time, as in binged drinking.

Alcoholic hepatitis is reversible, but abstinence should be for several months or even years, lifelong abstinence is recommended.

Cirrhosis

Cirrhosis is the final stage of alcoholic liver disease, there are several other causes of liver cirrhosis, but for this article we will concentrate on cirrhosis as a result of heavy alcohol use.

In cirrhosis, the liver tissue becomes scarred and fibrous, this prevents the liver from functioning normally, reducing life expectancy. Cirrhosis is a very serious condition, only about 30% of people with cirrhosis survive for five years after they have been diagnosed, the prognosis is much worst, if there is continued use of alcohol.

In cases that are mild to moderate, the immediate withdrawal of alcohol should prevent further damages with a gradual recovery of liver function, however, lifelong abstinence is essential.

Liver transplant may be required in severe cases, 3 out of 4 people with cirrhosis of the liver, who have liver transplant, lives for at least five years following transplant and many lives much longer.

How is Cirrhosis Diagnosed

The doctor will first perform a clinical examination followed by albumin levels, and full liver function tests (LFT's). These tests will show a number of enzymes that are released into the bloodstream when the liver is damaged. The Doctor will decide if there is a need for further investigations such as ultrasound, CT scan or MRI. A liver biopsy may be necessary to examine a small amount of liver tissue sample.

Complications

  • The combination of alcohol and cirrhosis may cause impotence in men
  • Varices or varicose veins in the stomach and the oesophagus may rupture to cause severe internal bleeding, and this can be life-threatening, requiring hospital treatment.
  • Liver cancer can occur in a number of cases in the late stages of cirrhosis.


The Liver

The liver is normally a resilient organ, it is vital to life, we can only survive a day or two without it. The liver is the largest gland and largest solid organ in the body, weighing about 1.3 kilos in women and in men a bit larger, about 1.8 kilos. it is reddish brown in colour, divided into two sections or lobes, the right larger than the left.

The liver is said to hold about 10 to 13% of the body's total blood supply at any one time.

Except for the brain, the liver is the most complex organ in the body. Often described as the body's factory, it performs around 500 different functions as follow.

  • Cleansing the blood; by helping in the removal and processing of waste products and toxins such as poisons and alcohol
  • Control blood clotting, preventing excessive bleeding when we cut ourselves
  • Aids the digestion of food; by producing bile
  • Provides energy
  • Fight infection
  • Make and control the production of certain hormones
  • Store iron, vitamin, and other essential chemicals

We are once again approaching the festive season, and most of us are looking forward to the usual family gatherings. We will eat, drink and be merry, and of course, there is nothing wrong with that. However, the statistics show, an increasing amount of people are showing symptoms of alcoholic liver disease due to an increased use of alcohol.

This Christmas, the smart money is on those of us who are aware of the limit of alcohol we can safely consume, and still have a fun time, keep track of how much you drink, your liver will thank you for it. Please, use the link below to check the Government recommended 'safe' drinking. Find out what are the recommended units of alcohol for men and women at https://www.drinkaware.co.uk.

We drinkers must be prudent in watching our drinking habits, and not just at Christmas, but whenever we drink, so be smart, drink responsibly and enjoy many more HAPPY CHRISTMAS'.


© 2011 Jo Alexis-Hagues

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    • tobusiness profile imageAUTHOR

      Jo Alexis-Hagues 

      3 years ago from Lincolnshire, U.K

      Hi Nuratiah, I do appreciate you stopping by. While you're quite right about unhealthy foods, alcoholic liver disease is associated with the abuse of alcohol. Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) refers to a range of conditions caused by a build-up of fat in the liver cells linked to obesity. Most people with this condition do not develop serious liver problems. I do agree that the marketing of unhealthy foods to children is unforgivable, something needs to be done.

      Best wishes to you

    • profile image

      Nuratiah 

      3 years ago

      Liver transplants for tnaeegers? Due to too much body fat? WOW! I know I shouldn't be surprised, really, but I still find it very startling. I mean, I know young kids are being diagnosed with high cholesterol and adult onset diabetes every day, due to poor diet and lack of exercise. It's really sad. The Standard American Diet has done a lot of damage. We really need to change! One part of the puzzle would be to stop marketing unhealthy foods to children. It's insidious!

    • tobusiness profile imageAUTHOR

      Jo Alexis-Hagues 

      6 years ago from Lincolnshire, U.K

      Gerg, many thanks for the visit and comment. It's nice to have a drink now and again but as you rightly said, all things in moderation.

    • Gerg profile image

      Gerg 

      6 years ago from California

      This is well written, pertinent and to the point - thank you. As I get older, I think about these things - maintenance of the body - more than I did when younger. A prominent member of my High School class died of liver cancer last year (big Facebook campaign, etc), and it made me more aware of the potential for this to occur with heavy drinkers. I'm a big fan of moderation and of giving thought to one's actions as the biggest tool for prevention for the average person.

      Nicely written - thanks, tobusiness!

      G

    • J Burgraff profile image

      J Burgraff 

      6 years ago

      Thank you for a great and informative hub. We are right in the midst of that season that glorifies drink, so this message could not be more timely!

    • tobusiness profile imageAUTHOR

      Jo Alexis-Hagues 

      7 years ago from Lincolnshire, U.K

      jhamann, many thanks for the comment, so many people are struggling with the demon drink, it takes strength and determination to claim your life back, so well done, I've always known you were a star. Keep up the good work

    • jhamann profile image

      Jamie Lee Hamann 

      7 years ago from Reno NV

      Thank you tobusiness, I struggled with this addiction for years and I am proud to say that I have been clean and sober for five years now. The only problems that I came across is some memory issues and a faulty gallbladder that had to be removed. I was one of the lucky ones. I also have a problem with chocolate but we should save that for a different hub.

    • tobusiness profile imageAUTHOR

      Jo Alexis-Hagues 

      7 years ago from Lincolnshire, U.K

      Hi debbie, many thanks for the comment, go easy on the chocolates, I think the trick is, a little of what you fancy, does you good, all things in moderation.

      The odd glass of wine could be very relaxing, but when you start to feel you need it, especially when its first thing in the morning, you know you're in trouble, and its time to seek help.

      Debbie You are very sensible to give alcohol a wide berth.

    • debbie roberts profile image

      Debbie Roberts 

      7 years ago from Greece

      After reading your hub I'm really glad that I'd rather have a bar of chocolate...Although I do worry about people I know who think that it could never happen to them...Maybe I can show them you hub!!

    • tobusiness profile imageAUTHOR

      Jo Alexis-Hagues 

      7 years ago from Lincolnshire, U.K

      rambansal, and dinkan53, thank you both for your comments, as the saying goes, fore warned is fore armed, people can make informed choices once they are aware of the facts. I'm on my way to work now, but I had a quick look at your hubs I will take a better look tomorrow, see you later.

    • dinkan53 profile image

      dinkan53 

      7 years ago from India

      useful informative article. You know the strange thing is that people those are not still entered the stage of cirrhosis, even after findings continue the consumption of alcohol. once cirrhosis has developed, the liver damage is irreversible.Alcoholic hepatitis can persist even with abstinence and may progress to cirrhosis. My message to alcoholics is 'Continued excessive drinking can shorten your lifespan. The outcome will likely be poor if you keep drinking, save your life'.

    • rambansal profile image

      Ram Bansal 

      7 years ago from India

      It is good to know about the disease in advance. Later, there remains nothing to learn and cure..So, take care of yourself..

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