- What is your liver?
- What is alcoholic liver disease?
- What causes alcoholic liver disease?
- What types of liver damage are caused by drinking alcohol?
- What are the symptoms of alcoholic liver disease?
- How can doctors tell if I have alcoholic liver disease?
- How do doctors treat alcoholic liver disease?
- Resources In This Article
Alcoholic Liver Disease
Your liver is a football-sized organ on the right side of your belly, just below your ribs. It has many important jobs:
Alcoholic liver disease is liver damage caused by drinking too much alcohol for a long time.
The more alcohol you drink and the more often you drink, the greater the liver damage
You won't have any symptoms at first but later you may feel tired or have yellow skin (jaundice) or a swollen abdomen
Symptoms can become severe and life-threatening, such as bleeding internally and having problems with your brain
If you have been drinking too much alcohol and have symptoms of liver disease, doctors will do blood tests
The main treatment for alcoholic liver disease is to stop drinking alcohol
Alcohol breaks down in your liver into substances that can damage your liver. The more alcohol you drink, the more damage to your liver.
You're at risk of alcoholic liver disease if you have more than 3 drinks a day for about 10 years. You're at risk of cirrhosis if you have more than 6 drinks a day for about 10 years.
For a given amount of drinking, you’re more likely to develop alcoholic liver disease if you:
Are a woman
Have family members who had alcoholic liver disease
Are very overweight
Have another liver disease, such as hepatitis C
Drinking too much alcohol can cause 3 types of liver damage, which often happen in this order:
Buildup of fat in the liver (fatty liver)
Inflammation of the liver (alcoholic hepatitis)
Scar tissue replaces normal liver tissue (cirrhosis)
Fatty liver disease often causes no symptoms.
Alcoholic hepatitis usually causes:
However, sometimes alcoholic hepatitis makes you very sick. You may have internal bleeding or go into a coma.
Cirrhosis causes many serious health problems, including:
Heavy use of alcohol can also cause other serious health problems, including:
Loss of feeling and strength due to nerve damage, mostly in your hands and feet
Poor nutrition, which can cause weakness, difficulty walking, shaking, brain damage, and even death
Anemia (a low blood count that can make you feel tired and have trouble breathing)
Severe belly pain and throwing up from pancreatitis
Tight, curled fingers and red palms
Small spider-like blood vessels you can see through your skin
Swollen glands in your cheeks and thin muscles in your face
In men, smooth skin, larger breasts, smaller testicles, and changes in pubic hair
Doctors will ask you or your family members about how much alcohol you drink. Doctors will suspect alcoholic liver disease if you drink a lot of alcohol.
Doctors will also do tests, such as:
You usually won't need other tests unless doctors aren't sure whether your liver disease is caused by alcohol or something else. Other tests may include:
If you have cirrhosis, you will have tests for liver cancer.
The most important thing you can do is:
It can be hard to stop drinking alcohol. Some things that help include going to a rehabilitation program, joining a support group, and talking to a counselor. Your doctor may prescribe medicine that helps reduce alcohol withdrawal symptoms.
Other treatments can include:
If your liver is very bad and barely working, you may need a liver transplant. With a transplant, doctors do surgery to replace your bad liver with a healthy one. Because alcohol will damage your new liver too, doctors usually do a transplant only if you have stopped drinking.