Alcoholic liver disease is the major cause of liver disease in Western countries, (in Asian countries, viral hepatitis is the major cause). It arises from the excessive ingestion of alcohol. Even though millions of individuals drink alcohol on a regular basis, only a few heavy drinkers develop liver damage. How alcohol damages the liver is not completely understood. It is known that alcohol produces toxic chemicals like acetaldehyde which can damage liver cells, but why this occurs in only a few individuals is still in debate. When alcohol damages the liver, the function of the organ is not immediately compromised as the liver has a tremendous capacity to regenerate and even when 75% of the liver is damaged, it continues to function as normal.
Symptoms may not be present until the disease is advanced, and may include:
Abdominal pain and tenderness
Fluid collection in the abdomen (ascites)
Loss of appetite
Unintentional weight gain (because of fluid collection)
The most important part of treatment is to stop using alcohol completely. If liver cirrhosis has not yet occurred, the liver can heal if you stop drinking alcohol.
An alcohol rehabilitation program or counseling may be necessary to break the alcohol addiction. Vitamins, especially B-complex and folic acid, can help reverse malnutrition.
If cirrhosis develops, you will need to manage the complications of cirrhosis. You may need a liver transplant.
Alcoholic liver disease usually occurs after years of excessive drinking. The longer the alcohol use and the more alcohol that was consumed, the greater the likelihood of developing liver disease.
Acute alcoholic hepatitis can result from binge drinking. It may be life-threatening if severe.
People who drink excessively can become malnourished because of the empty calories from alcohol, reduced appetite, and poor absorption (malabsorption) of nutrients in the intestines. Malnutrition contributes to liver disease.
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Other factors that contribute to the development of alcoholic liver disease:
Personal susceptibility to alcohol-induced liver disease
Toxicity of alcohol (ethanol) to the liver
Alcoholic liver disease does not affect all heavy drinkers. Women may be more susceptible than men. It is not necessary to get drunk for the disease to develop.
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