Alcoholic liver disease (ALD) refers to the damage that is caused to the liver due to prolonged alcohol abuse. It can manifest as fatty liver, alcoholic hepatitis, and cirrhosis of the liver. Damage to the liver may start as fatty liver and progress through alcoholic hepatitis to reach the final stage of this liver disease called cirrhosis. Fatty liver occurs due to acute alcohol ingestion and this condition can be reversed by abstinence from alcohol consumption. Functions of the liver do not deteriorate when one has a fatty liver, but the abnormality can be detected through a blood test.
Alcoholic hepatitis is caused in those who drink heavily for a long period of time. The symptoms can range from mild to life-threatening. Abstinence can help one recover; however, those who drink heavily are at a risk of developing cirrhosis of the liver. Cirrhosis is characterized by the development of nodules in the liver. Excess alcohol consumption leads to irreversible damage to the liver cells. One may develop jaundice and suffer from bruising or bleeding due to abnormalities with blood clotting. As the disease progresses, the liver can't carry out normal functions that may finally lead to liver failure. It is important to know the signs of alcoholic liver disease to be able to detect it before it is too late.
- The time and amount of alcohol consumption is the main cause behind the condition. The longer and more the consumption of alcohol, more severe is the disease.
- Genetic factors also decide if one can develop this disease. Family history of ALD makes one more prone to this disease.
- Despite having no family history some people develop this disease due to their high susceptibility to the disease.
- Susceptibility to ALD also depends upon the toxicity of the alcohol consumed.
Signs and Symptoms
It is difficult to detect fatty liver disease. People affected by this disease are either asymptotic, or they may show certain non-specific symptoms. Sometimes, the liver may appear smooth and slightly enlarged, but rarely tender. Fatty liver disease is not caused only due to alcoholism. Obesity, insulin resistance, and malnutrition may also cause a fatty liver.
In case of alcoholic hepatitis, the symptoms vary within a wide spectrum of severity. It may cause non-specific symptoms like abdominal pain and distension, weight loss, nausea, or vomiting. Physical symptoms include ascites, jaundice, and build up of fluid in the abdomen. More severe symptoms include encephalopathy, which causes general dysfunction in the brain, and liver failure. Some individuals affected by a severe case of alcoholic hepatitis may sometimes also develop acute viral hepatitis.
Alcohol induced cirrhosis of the liver is difficult to differentiate from cirrhosis caused due to other reasons. Some general cirrhosis symptoms that may be seen during alcohol induced cirrhosis are jaundice, hypertension, and visceral bleeding - a condition in which the blood vessels dilate and bleed, and may also burst. Some may even suffer from pruritus, in which those afflicted experience an intense scratching sensation.
Some other non-specific signs that occur usually during the early stages are fatigue and loss of energy, dry mouth, mental confusion, lightheadedness, loss of appetite, attention deficit, slow lethargic movement, and reddishness of the hands or feet.
Uncontrolled consumption of alcohol affects the liver and is also bad for health. By the time the signs of ALD surface, one may already be in an advanced stage of the disease. It is best to drink in moderation and have a healthy diet as obesity has been found to increase the risk of alcoholic liver disease among heavy drinkers.
Disclaimer: This HealthHearty article is for informative purposes only, and should not be used as a replacement for expert medical advice.