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The Symptoms of Alcoholic Hepatitis, Nausea, Fatigue, Abdominal Pain, Weight Loss, Loss of Appetite...
Not where you want to end up...
Alcohol, as we all know well, is not good for us – not good, particularly, for the liver. Chronic alcohol abuse can result in the fatal liver disease called cirrhosis, but cirrhosis is only last of three stages of an umbrella disorder called Alcoholic Liver Disease. Cirrhosis is preceded by alcoholic hepatitis.
The Three Stages of Alcoholic Liver Disease Are:
- Fatty Liver
- Alcoholic Hepatitis
The first stage of alcoholic liver disease is fatty liver, and it is just what it sounds like. Alcohol abuse strains the functioning of the liver and causes liver enlargement and firming and fatty deposits in the cells of liver.
Fatty liver does not generally cause notable symptoms and often remains undetected. Sometimes fatty liver will cause tenderness in the upper right area of the abdomen, and fatty liver is generally detectable in blood and ultrasound tests that look for liver abnormalities.
Fatty liver is completely reversible, and the liver will heal itself if the alcohol abuse abates.
The second progressive stage of alcoholic liver disease is alcoholic hepatitis, and the symptoms of alcoholic hepatitis can range from very mild (or none at all) to very serious. Hepatitis can be fatal, but like fatty liver, alcoholic hepatitis is almost always reversible after the alcohol abuse stops.
Symptoms of alcoholic hepatitis
Alcoholic hepatitis is sometimes elusive. Some sufferers will not notice any appreciable symptoms of their hepatitis.
Symptoms of early or mild stage alcoholic hepatitis are generally not "liver specific". These include:
- General feelings of fatigue
- Abdominal pains
- Weight loss
- Loss of appetite
Later stage alcoholic hepatitis may result in more liver specific symptoms such as
- Swollen fluid filled abdomen (Ascites)
- Bloody vomit
Some people, even with late stage alcoholic hepatitis, remain asymptomatic.
Alcoholic hepatitis can be fatal and lead to liver failure, liver infection or renal failure.
Alcoholic hepatitis, even if not fatal, will sometimes lead to the third stage of alcoholic liver disease, cirrhosis, unless alcohol consumption stops. The hepatitis is detectable through blood tests (Most alcoholic hepatitis patients will show reduced liver functioning in a blood test) or by ultrasound or liver biopsy.
Beware, up to 20% of heavy drinkers that present with elevated liver function test results are suffering liver damage from causes other than alcohol.
Get a Check Up!
The lesson to be learned from all of this is essentially that alcoholic liver disease is reversible and treatable until the third and final stage, cirrhosis. It is also a fairly silent disorder, and most patients will not present with serious "liver specific" symptoms until things have gotten pretty bad.
If you do have any of the liver specific symptoms that would indicate hepatitis – you cannot wait another day to get checked out and you are at real risk of cirrhosis or even death.
If you drink heavily, and especially if you drink heavily and feel any of the non liver specific symptoms (fatigue, nausea, loss of appetite etc.) you should also ask your doctor to run some liver tests, just to make sure things are still OK.
We heavy drinkers never like to own up to our habits in the doctor's office, knowing full well that our doctor will likely tell us to cut back, and not having much inclination to do that! But Alcoholic Liver Disease is deadly and miserable, and it’s just not worth risking. Tell your doctor the truth about your daily consumption and find out how well your liver is holding up.
Very comprehensive medical overview of Alcoholic Liver Disease
- Understanding Alcoholic Liver Disease and Cirrhosis
- Good Brief Overview of ALD
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