The over consumption of alcohol is the major cause of liver disease in Western countries. However, many experts know that a significant number of heavy drinkers do not develop liver problems, but they do not understand why. They do know that acetaldehyde (a toxic chemical produced by alcohol) damages the liver though they remain uncertain as to exactly how and why alcohol damages this vital organ.
An interesting thing about liver disease is that it affects some regular heavy drinkers more severely than others. It also takes a long time for any damage to become apparent. That’s because the liver is very resilient and efficient at regenerating and repairing itself. In fact, if 75% of the organ is damaged, it is still able to function pretty normally.
Producing over 500 bodily functions, the liver is the most complex body organ. It filters blood toxins, fights infections and diseases, regulates blood cholesterol levels and stores energy among many other activities.
Alcoholic Liver Disease and its Stages
The following factors tend to increase the risk of an individual developing alcoholic liver disease:
- Gender: Women metabolize alcohol at a slower rate and are more susceptible to liver damage.
- Hepatitis: Drinkers who have any form of hepatitis have an increased risk.
- Diet: Eating poorly also increases the risk of liver disease.
Malnutrition and certain vitamin deficiencies are other risk factors.
Three main stages of alcoholic liver disease may be experienced by the heavy drinker:
- Fatty liver disease: An accumulated period of heavy drinking can result in too many fatty acids in the liver. There are usually no symptoms and the stage is usually reversible if the individual abstains from alcohol for about two weeks. If the fatty liver is severe, symptoms may include nausea, abdominal pain and loss of appetite.
- Hepatitis: The liver can swell after years of heavy drinking. Again, with abstinence (sometimes a few months and sometimes a few years), this condition is reversible. Symptoms include jaundice, fever and tenderness in the abdomen.
- Cirrhosis: This occurs after the liver has been inflamed for a long time. It causes scarring and loss of function. Cirrhosis is not reversible. Further damage can be prevented by ceasing to drink. A long period of abstinence will improve liver function. If the damage is real severe, the patient may need a liver transplant.
In the beginning stages of cirrhosis the individual feels tired and weak. S/he experiences weight loss, itchy skin, insomnia, abdominal pain and a loss of appetite. During the end stages, the symptoms include hair loss, jaundice, dark urine, pale or black stool, loss of libido, bleeding gums, nose bleeds, vomiting, muscle cramps, irregular breathing, walking problems and an accelerated heartbeat. Since the liver is no longer processing toxins, the individual will experience sensitivity to medications and alcohol.
If you or someone you love is suffering from alcoholism, call the number at the top of your screen now for an immediate, free consultation about alcohol treatment options, detox, and even an intervention. Alcohol is a leading cause of death in the United States, so don’t let your loved one become a statistic. Call us now.