February 6th, 2017
Alcohol must be processed by the liver. The liver is an important organ, performing critical functions for survival that include metabolizing food, medications, and other substances for use by the cells. The liver is also necessary for elimination of many toxic substances from the body. With heavy or regular alcohol use, the liver may become damaged. Eventually, this process will result in death of liver cells. There are several types of liver disease related to alcohol use.
Alcohol related fatty liver disease occurs as the result of fatty deposits that accumulate in liver cells. It is the first change seen in people who are heavy drinkers. Often, there are no symptoms related to this process, but it may be discovered on a routine exam of the blood. Liver enzymes will be elevated, but tests that reflect the function of the liver will still be normal at this stage. It is usually removable with abstinence from alcohol. However, it may progress to alcoholic hepatitis and/or cirrhosis.
Alcoholic hepatitis refers to a process of inflammation of the liver that results in scarring. You may notice symptoms like nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain. Jaundice and fever may occur. Jaundice refers to a yellow discoloration of the eyes or skin, caused by accumulation of bilirubin, a product usually processed by the liver and eliminated. Over half of the patients diagnosed with alcoholic hepatitis already have progressed to the final stage of liver disease, cirrhosis. However, some heavy drinkers will develop cirrhosis without having alcoholic hepatitis.
Alcoholic cirrhosis is an irreversible process that refers to scarring of the liver. It becomes fibrous and hard. Abstinence may help to improve symptoms associated with cirrhosis, but the process cannot be reversed. Abstinence may even stop the progression of damage. If damage is extensive or progressive, liver transplant is the only treatment. Alcoholic cirrhosis is also a major risk factor for hepatocellular carcinoma, liver cancer. This disease has a very poor prognosis. Alcohol consumption can also cause other liver diseases like hepatitis B or C to progress more rapidly and cause more severe damage to the liver.
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