Alcoholic Liver Disease: Types, Symptoms & Treatment
Author: Thomas C. Weiss : Contact: Disabled World
Synopsis and Key Points:
Information regarding Alcoholic liver disease, a condition that can occur after years of drinking alcohol.
Alcoholic liver disease happens following years of heavy drinking. The heavy drinking might be each day, or a few days a week - such as on weekends. Any type of alcohol may cause disease. Alcohol can cause inflammation of a person's liver. Over a period of time, scarring and cirrhosis may happen. Cirrhosis is the final phase of alcoholic liver disease.
Alcoholic liver disease is defined as a term that encompasses the liver manifestations of alcohol over-consumption, which include fatty liver, alcoholic hepatitis, and chronic hepatitis with liver fibrosis or cirrhosis. Alcoholic liver disease happens following years of heavy drinking. The heavy drinking might be each day, or a few days a week, such as on weekends. Any type of alcohol may cause disease.
Alcoholic liver disease does not happen to all people who drink heavily. The chances of getting liver disease increase the longer a person has been drinking and the amount of alcohol they consume. A person does not have to get drunk for the disease to occur. The disease appears to be more common in some families. It is important to note that women may be more likely to experience this disease than men.
Forms of Alcoholic Liver Disease
There are three main forms of alcoholic liver disease, to include Fatty Liver, Alcoholic Hepatitis and Alcoholic Cirrhosis. What follows are descriptions of these three forms of alcoholic liver disease.
Fatty Liver: Fatty liver is excessive accumulation of fat inside a person's liver cells. Fatty liver is the most common form of alcoholic liver disease. The person's liver becomes enlarged, causing them to experience upper abdominal discomfort on the right side.
Alcoholic Hepatitis: Alcoholic hepatitis is an acute inflammation of the person's liver, accompanied by the destruction of individual liver cells and frequently followed by permanent scarring. The symptoms might include jaundice, fever, right-sided abdominal pain, weakness and nausea. The person's white blood count becomes elevated and their liver is both tender and enlarged.
Alcoholic Cirrhosis: Alcoholic cirrhosis involves the destruction of liver tissue, leaving non-functional scar tissue. The symptoms and signs, along with those of alcoholic hepatitis, include increased resistance to blood flow through the person's liver (portal hypertension), enlargement of the person's spleen, accumulation of fluid in the person's abdominal cavity (ascites), confusion, kidney failure and liver cancer.
Symptoms of Alcoholic Liver Disease
The effects of alcohol on a person's liver depends on how much and how long they have been consuming alcohol. Each person; however, might experience symptoms differently. What follows are the most common signs and symptoms of alcoholic liver disease.
- Enlarged liver
- Kidney failure
- Enlarged spleen
- Portal hypertension
- Spider-like veins in the skin
- Increased white blood cell count
- Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes)
- Ascites (fluid buildup in the abdominal cavity)
The symptoms of alcoholic liver disease might be similar to other forms of health issues or medical conditions. It is always important to consult your doctor if you are experiencing any of the symptoms above.
Laboratory Tests and Alcoholic Liver Disease
Along with a complete medical history and a physical examination, diagnostic procedures for alcoholic liver disease can include liver function tests, a liver biopsy, computed tomography (CT) scan, and/or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). What follows are descriptions of these laboratory tests.
Liver Function Tests: Liver function tests involve a series of blood tests that may determine if a person's liver is functioning as it should be.
Liver Biopsy: A liver biopsy is a procedure involving the removal of tissue samples from a person's liver using a needle or during surgery. The tissue samples are then examined underneath a microscope.
Computed Tomography (CT) Scan: A CT scan is a diagnostic imaging procedure using a combination of computer technology and X-rays to create cross-sectional images often referred to as, 'slices,' both vertically and horizontally, of a person's body. A CT scan reveals detailed images of any part of a person's body, to include muscles, bones, organs and fat. CT scans are more detailed than general X-rays.
Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI): An MRI is a diagnostic procedure that uses a combination of large magnets, radio frequencies and a computer to create detailed images of a person's organs and structures within their body. The person lies on a bed that moves into a cylindrical MRI machine. The machine takes a series of pictures of the inside of a person's body using radio waves and a magnetic field. The computer enhances the pictures created. The test is painless and does not involve exposing the person to radiation. Due to the fact that the MRI machine is tunnel-like, some people experience claustrophobia, or are not able to remain still during the test and might be administered a sedative in order to help them relax. Metal objects cannot be present in the MRI room, so those with metal clips, rods, or pacemakers inside their bodies cannot have an MRI test. All of a person's jewelry must be removed prior to the procedure as well.
Treating Alcoholic Liver Disease
Specific treatment for alcoholic liver disease is determined by the person's doctor. The doctor will determine the affected person's treatment based upon the:
- Extent of the person's disease
- Person's preferences or opinions
- Expectations for the course of the disease
- Person's age, medical history and overall health
- Person's tolerance for particular medications, therapies or procedures
The goal of treatment is to restore some or all usual functioning of the person's liver. Treatment commonly begins with abstinence from alcohol. The liver has great restorative power and often times is able to repair some of the damage caused by consumption of alcohol. The scarring from cirrhosis is not reversible and when liver tissue loss is severe enough to cause liver failure, the majority of the damages done may not be reversible. In some instances, a liver transplant might be considered.
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