What is Alcohol-Related Liver Disease?
Alcoholic liver disease happens when the liver is severely damaged due to excessive alcohol consumption over several years. Years of alcohol abuse usually causes the liver to succumb to inflammation, which causes scarring. This scarring of the liver is known as liver fibrosis. This scarring can be fatal as it can cause liver failure in severe cases as it develops into cirrhosis. Alcohol-related liver disease (ARLD) is a public health problem. Consuming alcohol is on the rise in India, and a large percentage of Indians drink heavily. This is more concerning because young people are increasingly taking up heavy drinking, becoming more susceptible to ARLD.
Alcohol effects on the liver are severe, and prolonged drinking damages the liver. There are three stages of alcoholic liver disease:
- AFLD or Alcoholic fatty liver disease: In this first stage, fat starts building up around and in the liver as side effects of alcohol consumption. At this stage, if alcohol consumption is stopped, the condition can be treated easily and reversed.
- Acute alcoholic hepatitis: In this stage, the inflammation of the liver takes place. If treatment is received and drinking is stopped, then there is a good chance of recovery. But in severe cases, alcoholic hepatitis leads to liver failure.
- Alcoholic cirrhosis: In the final and most severe stage of ARLD, the liver is scarred as side effects of alcohol consumption. The damage can’t be reversed, and the cirrhosis is likely to cause liver failure.
Signs & Symptoms
Signs of ARLD are not easily noticeable. However, some early signs of alcohol liver disease include nausea, fatigue, jaundice, loss of appetite and increased thirst. Other symptoms of alcohol-related liver disease include:
- Weight loss
- Darker or lighter skin
- Abdominal pain or discomfort
- Swelling in the abdomen
- Swelling of the legs
- Mood swings
- Bleeding gums
- In men, the enlargement of breasts
Liver damage causes are several. However, at the top of the list is alcohol. ARLD is caused due to alcohol abuse. Acetaldehyde is a toxic chemical contained in alcohol. Long periods of alcohol abuse damages the liver. There are no positive effects of alcohol on the body when consumed for prolonged periods, and it always leads to a deterioration of health.
To prevent alcoholic liver disease, one must avoid binge drinking. Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) is the medical term used for severe drinking problems. This is a chronic brain disorder that causes frequent relapses. Alcohol is similar to a drug and is resorted to at all times. Anyone who does not follow national guidelines for limits of alcohol consumption may have developed alcohol dependence. It is important to keep a check on friends and family members who drink more than they intend to, or try to stop drinking but can’t.
Treatment of Alcoholic liver disease has two purposes. The first step is to cease all intake of alcohol. The second step is to help the liver recover and to improve the health of the liver. An alcohol blood test is done to understand the extent to which blood has been polluted with alcohol. This is often done to know whether someone is drinking and lying about it.
Alcoholism treatments vary between rehabilitation programs, vitamin supplements and in very severe cases, liver transplant. Vitamin supplements such as Vitamin A and Vitamin B complex are supplied to those suffering from ARLD. These help with problems like malnutrition and anaemia, which is common in alcoholics.
Vitamin A supplements are to be consumed only by people who have completely stopped drinking alcohol. Consuming both together can be fatal. Rehabilitation programs are important for those who cannot give up alcohol. In the most severe cases, where the liver is completely damaged, transplant becomes the only option.