The liver is tasked with vital tasks in the human body, including all metabolic processes, storage, and blood filtration. Without a functioning liver, the body cannot survive. The liver has a tremendous ability to recover from injury. However, when prolonged and excessive alcohol consumption occurs, damage to the liver occurs faster than the organ can repair itself. And when that chronic damage begins to replace liver cells with scarring, called “cirrhosis,” a systemic effect will occur.
On this page, we are looking at a severe condition from prolonged and excessive alcoholism called “Alcoholic Liver Disease” or “ALD.” What is ALD? What are the signs and symptoms of ALD? Can you recover from ALD? Read on to learn about this debilitating attack on one of the body’s most essential organs.
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What is Alcoholic Liver Disease?
Alcoholic liver disease is the medical term used when the liver is damaged from extended or sustained alcohol abuse.
What Are the Symptoms of ALD?
ALD manifests in various symptoms due to the synergistic process of the liver to the body. These symptoms can be vast and throughout the human body.
How Does Alcoholic Liver Disease Manifest?
ALD typically manifests in several ways:
1. Stage One: Fatty Liver
2. Stage Two: Alcoholic Hepatitis
3. Stage Three: Liver Cirrhosis
Stage One: Fatty Liver
Fatty liver (ALD) happens as a result of acute or severe alcohol ingestion. In this first stage, the damage can be reversed through the simple act of restraint and abstinence from alcohol. During this period, the liver remains fully functional; however, symptomology and minimal abnormality can be revealed through blood tests.
Absent diagnostics, fatty liver is difficult to detect at its onset. The reason for this is because affected patients either show no signs (asymptomatic), or the symptoms are generalized in nature, masking non-specific illness. Widespread symptoms result in many sufferers disregarding warning signs.
In this stage, you may experience loss of appetite, fatigue, confusion, dry mouth, and discoloration (red) to the palms of hand and soles of feet. If abstinence from alcohol does not occur, the patient can move to the second stage.
Stage Two: Alcoholic Hepatitis
Alcoholic hepatitis occurs when severe alcohol ingestion occurs over a prolonged period. In this stage, symptomology can be very mild (weight loss) to the extreme (encephalopathy). In this second stage, chronic damage can still be reversed through abstinence, although damage has occurred to the liver.
Connecting symptoms to liver damage is imperative at this stage to assure the final opportunity of liver function recovery. Otherwise, the specific risks the further irreparable development of stage three.
In this stage, you may experience similar symptoms as stage one. However, the progression of the disease can manifest in more extreme symptoms. These symptoms can include abdominal tenderness, ascites, edema, jaundice, encephalopathy, and acute viral hepatitis.
Step Three: Liver Cirrhosis
ALD liver cirrhosis is a chronic condition from unchecked extreme and prolonged alcohol ingestion. It is predominately distinguished from early onset stages by the development of lumps or nodules on the liver. In this stage, chronic and irreversible damage has occurred. Cirrhotic scarring has replaced healthy liver cells. The liver can no longer recover from prolonged damage.
This stage of disease will manifest extreme symptoms of jaundice and irregular blood clotting. Visceral bleeding and bruising can result. The liver has lost its normal organ function, is at the point of cirrhosis, and may lead to entire organ failure or liver cancer.
Alcoholic liver cirrhosis manifests into severe symptoms from chronic dysfunction of the organ. Patients may experience extreme conditions such as jaundice, visceral bleeding, hypertension, severe itching skin, and cancer.
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Understanding the Signs of Alcoholic Liver Disease
It is relevant to understand the mild and advanced symptoms of ALD, so detection comes sooner than later. Early detection and abstinence from alcohol will afford the best opportunity for recovery. As stated earlier, acute symptoms may be difficult due to the general nature that can mask other illness and causes.
Medical diagnosis may be explained in two degrees, namely acute (mild) and post-acute (advanced). So, let’s look at the acute and post-acute symptoms.
Acute (Mild) Symptomology of ALD
- Abdominal Swelling
- Acute Viral Hepatitis
- Decreased Appetite
- Encephalopathy (brain swelling)
- Enlarged Liver
- Generalized Discomfort on Right Side
- Loss of Energy
- Skin Discoloration (neck and arms)
- Stomach Pain & Discomfort
- Weight Loss
- General Increase in Symptoms after heavy drinking
Post-Acute (Advanced) Symptomology of ALD
- Abnormal Bruising
- Ascites (excess fluid in the abdomen)
- Bloody Stool
- Bloody Vomit
- Digestion Sensitivity (to alcohol)
- Discoloration to Palms and Soles (excess redness)
- Edema (excess fluid in legs)
- Pruritis (severe itching skin
- Jaundice (yellowness to skin or eyes)
- Nail Clubbing (excessive curving)
- Problems with Concentration
- Stool Discoloration (pale or clay)
- Visceral Bleeding (dilation and rupture of blood vessels)
Can Liver Disease Be Caused by Conditions Other Than Alcohol Abuse?
When discussing ALD, it bears the inquiry whether the liver disease can be caused by conditions other than alcohol abuse. The answer to this question is simply, yes. The American Liver Foundation (ALF) has revealed that approximately 100 million Americans have the condition known as non-alcoholic fatty liver. This statistic amounts to approximately 30% of the American population.
Keep in mind that chronic liver cirrhosis begins with a fatty liver and can develop into liver cirrhosis. This progression from fatty liver to liver cirrhosis can be caused by conditions other than alcohol abuse. Further, medical statistics are finding that fatty liver is on the rise throughout the world.
Fatty liver is defined as a liver with a cell count that registers at least 5% fat. Fatty liver can be diagnosed easily through biopsy, CT, and MRI. Fatty liver can be caused by such medical issues as genetic disposition and medical conditions. However, its main cause is extended periods of high lipid concentrations in the blood.
Specifically, factors that can give rise to the non-alcoholic fatty liver include the following:
- Aflatoxin Ingestion (fungus from improperly stored grains and nuts)
- Gender (women are more prone to non-alcoholic condition)
- Genetic Disposition
- Hemochromatosis (excess iron storage in the body)
- High Cholesterol
- Hyperlipidemia (elevated fat in the blood)
- Illness (auto-immune disease, Hepatitis-C)
- Malnutrition or Rapid Weight Loss
- Medications (aspirin, certain steroids, tetracycline, etc.)
Akin to Alcoholic Liver Disease in the early stage, there is no specified treatment for the acute fatty liver. This condition is reversible by making simple lifestyle changes. The intended lifestyle changes should address the underlying cause of both the high lipid content in and lowered function of the liver. For example, medication may manage cholesterol counts, and diet may reduce lipid levels and weight management.
What Are the Extreme Risks of Liver Cirrhosis?
Liver cirrhosis is an extremely dangerous medical condition. The liver is an amazingly essential organ that can repair itself in acute stages of damage.
However, in an advanced stage where the liver becomes cirrhotic, liver function is irreversibly damaged. The damage is irreparable because the liver cells have been supplanted by scar tissue, which then makes the organ dysfunctional.
Liver cirrhosis also places the individual at a risk for liver cancer. The American Liver Foundation has stated that liver cancer is on the increase. https://liverfoundation.org/liver-disease-statistics/
Facts About Alcohol Consumption and Cancer
Alcohol abuse doesn’t just affect the liver and an individual’s increased risk of developing liver cancer. It is important to note that the Center for Disease Control (CDC) has identified six areas of the body where alcohol abuse can increase the risk of cancer. They are:
- Colon & Rectum
- Larynx / Voice Box
- Mouth & Throat
All alcoholic beverages are associated with a higher incidence of cancer in those related areas. Further, the higher and more prolonged the use of alcohol, the greater your risk for developing these cancers. The CDC recommends that women should consume no more than one alcoholic drink daily and men no more than two alcoholic drinks daily.
Start Early to Educate & Protect Against Alcoholic Liver Disease
Excessive and prolonged alcohol consumption adversely affects the liver. Early acute signs of Alcoholic Liver Disease manifest slowly – sometimes over years. Symptoms typically increase after a period of heavy alcohol consumption. When ALD symptoms become chronic, the liver may be damaged and at a point where damage to the liver is irreversible.
If you consume alcohol, do so in moderation. Maintain a healthy diet with exercise, as obesity can increase the risk of ALD and non-ALD. Also, if drink alcohol and/or have a family history of liver disorder, be aware of the early signs and warning symptoms. In such cases, talk to your doctor right away.
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