What is your liver?
Your liver is a football-sized organ on the right side of your belly, just below your ribs. It has many important jobs:
To make a liquid (bile) that helps your body digest fat
To process nutrients from your digestive tract
To make proteins that help your blood clot
To help break down drugs and poisons so your body can get rid of them
The Digestive System
What is alcohol-related liver disease?
Alcohol-related 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 risk of 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 alcohol-related liver disease is to stop drinking alcohol
What causes alcohol-related liver disease?
Alcohol breaks down in your liver into substances that can damage your liver. The more alcohol you drink, the more your liver can be damaged.
You're at risk of alcohol-related liver disease if you have more than 3 drinks a day for about 10 years. You're at risk of cirrhosis Cirrhosis of the Liver Your liver is a football-sized organ on the right side of your belly, just below your ribs. It has many important jobs: To make a liquid (bile) that helps your body digest fat To process nutrients... read more 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 alcohol-related liver disease if you:
Are a woman
Have family members who had alcohol-related liver disease
Are very overweight
What types of liver damage are caused by drinking alcohol?
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)
Almost everyone who drinks too much alcohol gets fatty liver
Fatty liver usually goes away if you stop drinking
Inflammation of the liver (alcoholic hepatitis)
In some people the liver gets inflamed
The inflamed liver doesn't work normally
Inflammation usually goes away if you stop drinking, but your liver may have some permanent damage
Scar tissue replaces normal liver tissue (cirrhosis)
The more scar tissue you have, the harder the remaining normal liver tissue has to work
When enough scar tissue builds up, your liver shrinks and doesn’t work normally
Scar tissue never goes away, even if you stop drinking
What are the symptoms of alcohol-related liver disease?
Fatty liver disease often causes no symptoms.
Alcoholic hepatitis usually causes:
Jaundice (yellow skin and eyes)
A painful, swollen liver
Weak, tired feeling
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:
Sleepiness and confusion due to problems with your brain
Throwing up blood
Bloody or dark, tarry stool (poop)
Bleeding and bruising more easily
Higher risk of liver cancer
What other symptoms does heavy alcohol use cause?
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 Overview of Anemia Anemia is a condition in which the number of red blood cells is low. Red blood cells contain hemoglobin, a protein that enables them to carry oxygen from the lungs and deliver it to all parts... read more (a low blood count that can make you feel tired and have trouble breathing)
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
How can doctors tell if I have alcohol-related liver disease?
Doctors will ask you or your family members about how much alcohol you drink. Doctors will suspect alcohol-related liver disease if you drink a lot of alcohol.
Doctors will also do tests, such as:
Blood tests to check your liver and to look for hepatitis C Hepatitis C, Chronic Chronic hepatitis C is inflammation of the liver that is caused by the hepatitis C virus and that has lasted more than 6 months. Hepatitis C often causes no symptoms until after it has badly... read more and anemia Overview of Anemia Anemia is a condition in which the number of red blood cells is low. Red blood cells contain hemoglobin, a protein that enables them to carry oxygen from the lungs and deliver it to all parts... read more (low number of red blood cells)
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:
Ultrasound (using sound waves to take a picture of the insides of your body)
Liver biopsy (using a needle to take out a small piece of liver to look at under a microscope)
How do doctors treat alcohol-related liver disease?
The most important thing you can do is:
Stop drinking alcohol
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:
Eating food and vitamins that are good for you
Taking medicine called corticosteroids to reduce any liver inflammation
If your liver is very bad and barely working, you may need a liver transplant Liver Transplantation Liver transplantation is the surgical removal of a healthy liver or sometimes a part of a liver from a living person and then its transfer into a person whose liver no longer functions. (See... read more . 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.