What Is Alcoholic Liver
The liver is a large organ with an important job in your
body. It filters the blood of toxins, breaks down proteins, and creates bile to
help the body absorb fats. When a person drinks alcohol heavily over the course
of decades, the body starts to replace the liver’s healthy tissue with scar
tissue. Doctors call this condition alcoholic liver cirrhosis.
As the disease progresses, and more of your healthy liver
tissue is replaced with scar tissue, your liver will stop functioning properly
the American Liver Foundation, between 10 and 20 percent of heavy drinkers will develop
cirrhosis. Alcoholic liver cirrhosis is the most advanced form of liver disease
that’s related to drinking alcohol. The disease is part of a progression. It
may start with fatty liver disease, then progress to alcoholic hepatitis, and
then to alcoholic cirrhosis. However, it’s possible a person can develop
alcoholic liver cirrhosis without ever having alcoholic hepatitis.
What Symptoms Are
Associated With This Alcoholic Liver Cirrhosis?
Symptoms of alcoholic liver cirrhosis
typically develop when a person is between the ages of 30 and 40. Your body
will be able to compensate for your liver’s limited function in the early
stages of the disease. As the disease progresses, symptoms will become more
The symptoms of alcoholic liver
cirrhosis are similar to other alcohol-related liver disorders. Symptoms
hypertension, which increases blood pressure in the vein that travels through
- skin itching (pruritus)
What Causes Alcoholic
Damage from repeated and excessive
alcohol abuse leads to alcoholic liver cirrhosis. When the liver tissue starts
to scar, the liver doesn’t work as well as it did before. As a result, the body
can’t produce enough proteins or filter toxins out of the blood as it should.
Cirrhosis of the liver can occur due
to a variety of causes. However, alcoholic liver cirrhosis is directly related
to alcohol intake.
Are There Groups of People
Who Are More Likely to Get This Condition?
The most significant risk factor for
alcoholic liver disease is alcohol abuse. Typically, a person has drank heavily
for at least eight years. The National
Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism defines heavy drinking as drinking
five or more drinks in one day on at least five of the past 30 days.
Women are also more at-risk for
alcoholic liver disease. Women don’t have as many enzymes in their stomachs to
break down alcohol particles. Because of this, more alcohol is able to reach
the liver and make scar tissue.
Alcoholic liver disease can also have
some genetic factors. For example, some people are born with a deficiency in
enzymes that help to eliminate alcohol. Obesity, a high-fat diet, and having
hepatitis C can also increase a person’s likelihood they will have alcoholic
How Would a Doctor
Diagnose You with Alcoholic Liver Cirrhosis?
Doctors can diagnose alcoholic liver
cirrhosis by first taking a medical history and discussing a person’s history
of drinking. A doctor will also run some tests that can confirm a cirrhosis
diagnosis. These results of these tests may show:
(low blood levels due to too little iron)
blood ammonia level
blood sugar levels
(large amount of white blood cells)
liver tissue when a sample is removed from a biopsy and studied in a laboratory
enzyme blood tests that show the level of aspartate aminotransferase (AST) is
two times that of alanine aminotransferase (ALT)
blood magnesium levels
blood potassium levels
blood sodium levels
Doctors will also try to rule out other conditions that may
affect the liver to confirm that cirrhosis has developed.
What Complications Can
Alcoholic Liver Cirrhosis Cause?
Alcoholic liver cirrhosis can cause
serious complications. This is known as decompensated cirrhosis. Examples of
these complications include:
or a buildup of fluid in the stomach
or mental confusion
bleeding, known as bleeding varices
which makes the skin and eyes have a yellow tint
Those with this the more severe form of cirrhosis often
require a liver transplant to survive. According to
the Cleveland Clinic, patients with decompensated alcoholic liver cirrhosis who receive a
liver transplant have a five-year survival rate of 70 percent.
How Is Alcoholic Liver
Doctors can reverse some forms of
liver disease with treatment, but alcoholic liver cirrhosis usually can’t be
reversed. However, your doctor can recommend treatments that may slow the
disease’s progress and reduce your symptoms.
The first step in treatment is to
help the person stop drinking. Those with alcoholic liver cirrhosis are often
so dependent on alcohol that they could experience severe health complications
if they try to quit without being in the hospital. A doctor can recommend a
hospital or treatment facility where a person can start the journey toward
Other treatments a doctor may use
Other medications doctors may prescribe include corticosteroids, calcium
channel blockers, insulin, antioxidant supplements, and S-adenosyl-L-methionine
Counseling: Alcohol abuse can lead to malnutrition.
protein: Patients often require extra protein in certain forms to help reduce
the likelihood for developing brain disease (encephalopathy).
Transplant: A person often must be sober for at least six months before
they are considered a candidate for liver transplant.
Outlook on Alcoholic Liver
Your outlook will depend on your overall health and whether
you have developed any complications related to cirrhosis. This is true even
when a person stops drinking.