Signs of Liver Disease or Damage from Alcohol Abuse
The liver is the largest organ in the human body. It’s responsible for aiding in food digestion, keeping stores of energy, and filtering out toxins.
Several liver disease forms come from viruses, genetically inherited disorders, or excessive amounts of alcohol consumption.
Alcohol-related liver disease symptoms can develop slowly over decades.
According to the American Liver Foundation, virtually all heavy drinkers develop a fatty liver, and around 10 to 20 percent develop cirrhosis, the most severe type of preventable liver condition.
What Causes Alcohol-Related Liver Disease?
The liver is only able to process small amounts of alcohol at a time. For most people, the liver can metabolize approximately one alcoholic drink per hour.
Any unprocessed alcohol stays in the bloodstream, which causes a person to become intoxicated.
Alcohol-related liver disease results from chronic alcohol use, misuse, and abuse over time that overwhelms and damages liver cells, leaving behind scar tissue that makes it harder for the organ to stay healthy and filter out toxins.
Liver Damage From Alcoholism
Early signs of liver damage from alcohol start with inflammation.
Unlike other organs in the body, however, an inflamed liver may not cause any pain or discomfort, making it difficult to detect a problem unless a person and their physician explicitly test for inflammation.
Untreated liver inflammation begins to leave behind scar tissue where healthy tissue was once present.
This early stage of liver disease is known as fibrosis. It decreases blood circulation throughout the liver and forces the remaining healthy tissue to work harder.
As the fibrous scar tissue replaces healthy tissue, cirrhosis develops. Unfortunately, this critical stage may be the first symptoms of liver disease that a person notices.
Signs and Symptoms of Liver Disease
While it’s not always easy to recognize liver problems’ initial symptoms, they will become more apparent once the damage reaches unhealthy levels.
The noticeable signs and symptoms of liver disease or damage can include some of the following:
- Detectible bruising or bleeding
- Severe skin itchiness
- Accumulation of water build up in the legs and abdomen
- Jaundice, where the skin and eyes develop a yellow coloring
- Increased sensitivity to the side effects of various medications
- Fever, nausea, vomiting, or discolored stool
- Chronic fatigue or exhaustion regularly
- Difficulty with memory, concentration, and sleep as a result of toxins that build up in the bloodstream and brain
Untreated cirrhosis of the liver can lead to liver failure, a life-threatening condition, and liver cancer.
At this stage, treatment is on slowing or stopping the spread of liver damage. Unfortunately, once it has progressed to a certain point, the liver will not heal itself.
Not all liver problems are from alcohol use and abuse, and the most common non-alcohol-induced liver diseases are hepatitis A, B, and C.
The various types of hepatitis can develop from parasites or viruses that infect the liver spread by blood, semen, contaminated water, or food. Obesity can also lead to liver damage.
The most effective liver damage prevention is leading a healthy lifestyle.
Proper nutrition and maintaining appropriate weight can help prevent non-alcoholic fatty liver associated with obesity.
Practicing safe sex decreases the chance of sexually transmitted conditions that may lead to liver disease and not using illicit intravenous drugs.
For those at an increased risk of getting hepatitis, either due to lifestyle or geographic location, there are available vaccinations for hepatitis A and hepatitis B.
Alcohol-induced liver damage and disease are entirely preventable by abstaining from alcohol or drinking in moderation.
According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, moderate drinking is noted as one drink a day for women and two for men. It also notes that there is no type of alcoholic beverage that is safer to drink than another.
The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) defines low-risk drinking for most people as up to 3 drinks a day for women, not to exceed seven drinks in a week. For men, the daily limit is four drinks a day or less than 14 drinks a week. These numbers are for healthy people without any alcohol-related issues.
People that should not drink alcohol include:
- Those under the age of 21
- Women who are pregnant
- People taking medication that could adversely interact with alcohol
- Alcoholics or those in recovery
The CDC states that it is never safe for people with some types of cancer or those with liver disease to drink alcohol of any kind.
For anyone concerned about liver disease or damage, the best course of action is to stop drinking immediately and schedule an appointment with a doctor to have a thorough examination.