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How Alcohol Can Kill Your Liver — And You

Posted Apr 27 2009 11:42pm

The response to my blog; Should Alcoholics Get Liver Transplants, was overwhelming.   I’ve been posting for a little over a year and no other blog has generated a response as heavy as this one.   Because so many people were interested in the effect of alcohol on the liver, I decided to offer a brief expansion of the topic.

 

I think it is important to point out here that while I am a recovering alcoholic I am not anti-alcohol.   There are, though, some instances where abstinence is absolutely necessary.   Such is the case with liver disease.

 

According to the American Liver Foundation (ALF), ( http://www.liverfoundation.org/education/info/alcohol/ )

the liver breaks down alcohol so it can be eliminated from your body. If you consume more alcohol than the liver can process, the resulting imbalance can injure the liver by interfering with its normal breakdown of protein, fats, and carbohydrates.

The ALF says there are three kinds of liver disease related to alcohol consumption:

Fatty liveris marked by a build-up of fat cells in the liver. Usually there are no symptoms, although the liver may be enlarged and you may experience discomfort in your upper abdomen. Fatty liver occurs in almost all people who drink heavily. The condition will improve after you stop drinking.

Alcoholic hepatitisis an inflammation of the liver. Up to 35 percent of heavy drinkers develop alcoholic hepatitis. Symptoms may include loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain and tenderness, fever and jaundice. In its mild form, alcoholic hepatitis can last for years and will cause progressive liver damage. The damage may be reversible if you stop drinking. In its severe form, the disease may occur suddenly, after binge drinking, and it can quickly lead to life-threatening complications.

Alcoholic cirrhosisis the most serious type of alcohol-induced liver disease. Cirrhosis refers to the replacement of normal liver tissue with scar tissue. Between 10 and 20 percent of heavy drinkers develop cirrhosis, usually after 10 or more years of drinking. Symptoms of cirrhosis are similar to those of alcoholic hepatitis. The damage from cirrhosis is not reversible, and it is a life-threatening disease. Your condition may stabilize if you stop drinking.

Many heavy drinkers will progress fromfatty liverto alcoholic hepatitis and finally to alcoholic cirrhosis, though the progression may vary from patient to patient. The risk of developing cirrhosis is particularly high for people who drink heavily and have another chronic liver disease such asviral hepatitisC.

The ALF makes it very clear that if you have any liver disease you must stop drinking, period!   “Y our doctor may suggest changes in your diet and certain vitamin supplements to help your liver recover from the alcohol-related damage. Medications may be needed to manage the complications caused by your liver damage. In advanced cases of alcoholic cirrhosis, the only treatment option may be a liver transplant. However, active alcoholics will usually not qualify as suitable organ recipients.”

Once people become aware of the dangers alcohol poses to the liver, the first question they ask is, “Can I drink at all?   Is there a safe level of drinking?”   Here’s ALF’s response:

“For most people, moderate drinking will not lead to alcohol-induced liver disease. Moderate drinking means no more than one drink a day for women and two drinks a day for men. (A standard drink is one 12-ounce beer, one 5-ounce glass of wine or one 1.5-ounce shot of distilled spirits.) However, for people with chronic liver disease, especially alcohol-induced liver disease, even small amounts of alcohol can make the liver disease worse. Patients with alcohol-induced liver disease and those with cirrhosis from any cause should stop using alcohol completely.

Women are more likely to be affected by alcohol-induced liver disease because women can be affected by smaller amounts of alcohol than men.”

Finally The American Liver Foundation says:  Serious complications from alcohol-induced liver disease typically occur after many years of heavy drinking. Once they do occur, the complications can be serious and life-threatening. They may include:

·         Accumulation of fluid in the abdomen

·         Bleeding from veins in the esophagus

·         Enlarged spleen

·         High blood pressure in the liver

·         Changes in mental function, and coma

·         Kidney failure

·         Liver cancer”

The basic philosophy behind this blog is to advance organ donation but because there is such an organ shortage it is important, too, to protect our organs.   Steps can be taken to avoid needing an organ transplant.   Moderation of alcohol consumption is one of them.

Please comment here or email your comments to me atbob@baronson.org

 

Please read and comment on my World Wide Issues blogs onhttp://blogsbybob.wordpress.com.    Also…visit and join my Facebook site, Organ Transplant Patients, Friends and You at   http://tinyurl.com/225cfh   OR — my Facebook home page   http://www.facebook.com/home.php  

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