Alcoholic liver disease

Definition

Alcoholic liver disease is damage to the liver and its function due to alcohol abuse.

Causes

Alcoholic liver disease occurs after years of heavy drinking. Over time, scarring and cirrhosis can occur. Cirrhosis is the final phase of alcoholic liver disease.

Alcoholic liver disease does not occur in all heavy drinkers. The chances of getting liver disease go up the longer you have been drinking and more alcohol you consume. You do not have to get drunk for the disease to happen.

The disease is common in people between 40 and 50 years of age. Men are more likely to have this problem. However, women may develop the disease after less exposure to alcohol than men. Some people may have an inherited risk for the disease.

Symptoms

There may be no symptoms, or symptoms may come on slowly. This depends on how well the liver is working. Symptoms tend to be worse after a period of heavy drinking.

Early symptoms include:

As liver function worsens, symptoms may include:

Exams and Tests

Your health care provider will do a physical exam to look for:

Tests you may have include:

Tests to rule out other diseases include:

Treatment

LIFESTYLE CHANGES

Some things you can do to help take care of your liver disease are:

MEDICINES FROM YOUR DOCTOR

OTHER TREATMENTS

When cirrhosis progresses to end-stage liver disease, a liver transplant may be needed.

Support Groups

Many people benefit from joining support groups for alcoholism or liver disease.

Outlook (Prognosis)

Alcoholic liver disease is treatable if it is caught before it causes severe damage. However, continued excessive drinking can shorten your lifespan.

Cirrhosis further worsens the condition and can lead to serious complications. In case of severe damage, the liver cannot heal or return to normal function.

Possible Complications

Complications may include:

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Contact your provider if you:

Get emergency medical help right away if you have:

Prevention

Talk openly to your provider about your alcohol intake. The provider can counsel you about how much alcohol is safe for you.


Review Date: 7/10/2017
Reviewed By: Michael M. Phillips, MD, Clinical Professor of Medicine, The George Washington University School of Medicine, Washington, DC. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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