Health & Wellness

All About Alcohol-Related Liver Disease; Symptoms, Types, and Treatment

Alcohol-related liver disease, or ARLD, is a result of liver damage that is caused by excessive consumption of liquor for several years. The illness is a serious health condition that needs to be diagnosed before it becomes worse for you. Alcoholic liver disease is common in people, which should not be taken for granted. As reported, around 2.5 lakh to 3 lakh people in India suffer from liver disease every year.

The condition makes the organ inflamed or swollen, and it even becomes scarry during the last stage, known as cirrhosis. The nonfunction of the liver is a matter of concern for the human body; it is so threatening that it can also lead to death.

If you don’t know, the liver is the largest organ inside the body, which helps your body to:

  • Filter body waste
  • Digest food
  • Store sugar
  • Produce protein

What is the cause of Alcohol-Related Liver Disease?

As mentioned above, the disease is caused by extra consumption of alcohol as condoned by the organ. If you consume more alcohol than it can process, it becomes troublesome and damages the liver. The disease varies from person to person as per the capacity and acceptance level of each person’s liver.

That means, it may not take the same amount of drinks to affect two people; it might be linked to their genetics which is yet to be deciphered. Likewise, it alters for men and women.

Types of Alcohol-related liver disease:

  • Fatty Liver: This is labelled as the initial stage of the ARLD where fat can be observed around the organ. The condition results in liver cell damage, inflammation, and affects your body's immunity. If you are a woman who is a heavy drinker, there is a high chance of being at risk. As it is at the start, the condition can be cured by giving up on alcohol.
  • Alcoholic Hepatitis: The condition develops as alcohol severely damages your liver. The stage causes swelling to the organ; the result depends on the level of damage. In some cases, treatment can help to restore the organ, but it may lead to liver failure in worse situations.
  • Alcoholic Cirrhosis: This is the worst stage of ARLD where the liver is scarred and cannot be fixed; even treatment isn’t useful. This is the final phase, and your liver stops responding after some time.

Alcoholic liver disease: Symptoms

The effects of alcohol can be perceived depending on how much a person consumes it and  how long the person has lived with the drinking habits. Whereas, it reflects unlike symptoms for respective types. Some of the most common ARLD symptoms and signs are:

  1. Fatty Liver: Tiredness, weakness, weight loss, discomfort on the right side of the upper abdomen.
  2. Alcoholic Hepatitis: Fever, weakness, loss of appetite, yellowing of eyes and skin, vomiting, pain over the liver.
  3. Alcoholic Cirrhosis: Symptoms of Alcoholic Hepatitis, poor nutrition, intestine bleeding, hypertension, kidney issues and confusion.

Alcoholic liver disease: Risk factors

Excessive drinking is the common cause of alcohol-related liver disease. Other factors that increase the risk of developing the condition include:

  • Obesity
  • Hepatitis C or any other pre-existing liver disease
  • Family history of ARLD
  • Improper nutrition

Besides, women are found to be more vulnerable to the condition than men, due to the harmful effects of alcohol.

Alcoholic liver disease: Diagnosis

Generally, ARLD is suspected when you are examined for a health check-up and found to have a damaged liver. As mentioned above, you would perceive the early-stage symptoms. We also need to understand that ARLD is not the only reason for your liver damage. Consequently, a doctor will examine the liver to differentiate the other liver diseases.

To start with, the doctor would recommend a blood test to review your liver function and ask about your eating and drinking habits. The practice will help to begin the treatment without any delay. The process will continue with:

  1. Blood tests: Commonly, patients are advised to undergo liver function blood tests. These tests will examine certain protein substances in the body that are made up of the organ, known as serum albumin. For instance, a high level of serum albumin suggests that your liver is working properly. These are also helpful to identify any abnormal blood clotting. 
  2. Image tests: Going further, the doctor would recommend checking the size of the liver and require its detailed figure. Here, scans are really helpful to know the condition of the organ; liver image testing tests will include a CT scan, an ultrasonic scan and an MRI scan. Manytimes, doctors may suggest scans to know the liver stiffness and scars.
  3. Liver Biopsy: This is an intense liver test where a needle is inserted into your body to take a sample of your liver cells. This sample is examined in the laboratory by a microscope to check the degree of liver scarring and the source of the damage.
  4. Endoscopy: The advanced test is again conducted from inside the body where a thin tube with a light and camera is inserted. During the process, the device is passed through the different organs, which are displayed on an external screen. This test mainly helps to identify cirrhosis, the last stage of ARLD.

Alcoholic liver disease: Treatment

In ARLD treatment, doctors mainly look for two objectives; prevent patients from drinking alcohol and improving overall liver health. Consequently, the doctor advises the following:

  1. Rehabilitation program: ARLD treatment begins with abstaining from alcohol. One can even adopt the drinking habit again in non-serious cases, as per the doctor’s alcohol consumption guidelines. For severe patients, it has to be avoided for a lifetime. Likewise, when you follow the abstaining program, you may suffer some symptoms such as disturbed sleep and body aches. To deal with it, you continue with some basic medication and psychological therapy. All these are part of your alcoholic rehabilitation program!
  2. Medication: The use of medicine in treating serious ARLD is still a controversial topic as it is found with limited evidence. Yet, doctors can prescribe a few to control a patient’s condition in the initial stage. Otherwise, it is necessary to undergo the recovery in the hospital rather than staying at home. For instance, doctors may recommend corticosteroids to cure liver inflammation.
  3. Organ transplant: In the final stage of ARLD, the organ continues to lose its function ability. At this point, it becomes irreversible for the organ, and a liver transplant is considered. Consequently, it is the only alternative to prevent liver failure.
  4. Proper nutrition and diet: Nutrition support is the intrinsic factor in treating ARLD. When your liver is damaged, your body finds it challenging to store glycogen. That means, to fulfil the energy requirements, your body loses its muscles.  It is essential to get a balanced diet that is full of nutrients as required by your body. Add a protein diet to your meals; eat 3-4 meals per day. Besides, it is advised to avoid salt as it will help prevent swelling to your legs and other body parts.

Related Read: All you need to know about cholesterol: 5 ways to keep cholesterol low

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