Alcoholic Liver Disease: How much alcohol do you drink?
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:
- loss of appetite
- a general feeling of unwell
- abdominal pain
This stage is reversible if alcohol is stopped for about two weeks, giving the liver sufficient time to return to normal.
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 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.
- 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 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. http://www.mydrinkaware.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 have many more HAPPY CHRISTMAS'.
© 2011 Jo Alexis-Hagues