Alcohol-related liver disease (ARLD) is common in the UK. According to the British Liver Trust, 60 percent of liver disease cases are caused by excessive alcohol consumption. It is a serious issue as the liver is responsible for several vital functions like:
- Clearing the blood of harmful toxins
- Processing food that is digested by the body
- Regulating blood sugar and cholesterol levels
A better understanding and appreciation of ARLD can help people prevent it from happening or stop it from further damaging the liver.
Fatty Liver Disease, Alcoholic Hepatitis, and Cirrhosis
There are three phases of ARLD, starting with fatty liver disease. As the name suggests, the liver starts accumulating a lot of fat. If you don’t give the liver enough time to adequately process the alcohol (by heavily drinking for a few consecutive days), fat build-up can occur.
This stage can be quite insidious as there are no visible symptoms of having a fatty liver. But once you drink in excess for several days, that should be a clear warning sign to exercise more caution and to limit yourself. Excess fat begins to disappear after two consecutive weeks without alcohol. Scheduling an appointment for a private ultrasound scan can give you a better idea of the liver’s condition.
However, continuous alcohol misuse for extended periods leads to alcoholic hepatitis. Many people only find out about the damage to their liver during this serious and life-threatening stage. Some people will start exhibiting the following symptoms:
- Yellowing of the skin and eyes
- Nausea and vomiting
- Tenderness in the abdominal area
- Loss of appetite and fatigue
If a person persists with alcohol despite repeated warnings, then cirrhosis becomes much more likely. This part is the third stage where the liver is severely scarred and bloated. In general, it is widely considered by doctors as the point of no return. However, some patients who immediately abandon alcohol can steadily recover and live for a few more years.
Cases of ARLD have risen in recent years, and many deaths are associated with it. Unfortunately, the disease can also cause other deadly health complications.
For instance, portal hypertension and varices can develop. As the liver becomes heavily damaged, your body will have a hard time moving blood through the organ. That increases blood pressure around the intestinal tract.
Additionally, ARLD can cause cancer cells to appear around the liver. Data from the NHS estimates that three to five percent of patients who have cirrhosis develop liver cancer every year.
Prevention and treatment
Stopping ARLD in its track depends entirely upon alcohol abstinence. But avoiding alcohol is easier said than done. Others may find it easier to cope without it, while some people may not.
The NHS provides links to helpful guidelines and tips on reducing alcohol consumption. If you or anyone you know is struggling with alcohol dependency, it may be advisable to seek out expert behavioural therapy to manage withdrawal symptoms and prevent relapses.
With proper medical guidance and support from family and friends, people with ARLD can still recover and take control of their lives.