The term alcoholic liver disease is a blanket term that refers to one of three categories of liver diseases that are caused by alcohol consumption. The three categories are: fatty liver, cirrhosis and alcoholic hepatitis.
The symptoms of alcoholic liver disease depend upon the category of liver disease. General symptoms of alcoholic liver disease may include:
Specific symptoms of alcoholic liver disease depend on which of the three categories of liver disease are present. Possible symptoms based on the type of liver disease present include:
Alcohol is metabolized in the liver. When alcohol is not consumed in moderation, liver damage can occur. There is a somewhat genetic component to alcoholic liver disease in terms of a predilection to alcohol abuse. For more information, read What Alcohol Does To Your Liver.
The risk of alcoholic liver disease is higher for individuals who consume excess amounts of alcohol on a regular basis. The risk increases as the quantity and duration of excess alcohol intake rises. Not all individuals who consume excessive amounts of alcohol will develop alcoholic liver disease. Moderate drinking also increases the risk for fatty liver, which has been identified in up to 40 percent of moderate drinkers. Daily consumption of more than 60 grams of alcohol for men and 20 grams of alcohol for women leads to a significant rise in alcoholic liver disease risk. Sporadic binge drinking appears to be less harmful and less of a risk than steady daily alcohol consumption, but should still be considered a health risk, nonetheless.
The specific tests that are needed to diagnose alcoholic liver disease depend on the category of the disease. Possible diagnostic tests include:
Treatment options for alcoholic liver disease also depend on the specific type. Fatty liver will generally improve if alcohol consumption ends. For cirrhosis, treatment includes prevention and management of possible complications, such as variceal bleeding, encephalopathy and malnutrition. In severe cases, a liver transplant may be needed. Alcoholic hepatitis is treated the same as cirrhosis, however, most transplant centers require all patients to abstain from alcohol consumption for a minimum of 6 months in order to qualify for a liver transplant.
The number one treatment option for any type of alcoholic liver disease is refraining from consuming alcohol in order to promote healing of the liver. Corticosteroids are also receiving a lot of attention as an effective form of treatment for alcoholic hepatitis. Vitamins may be needed to treat malnutrition and an alcohol rehabilitation program or therapy sessions may be necessary to help break an addiction to alcohol.
The most important at-home remedy for alcoholic liver disease is to stop drinking alcohol. Other measures include improving the diet to ensure adequate nutrition and prevent or treat malnutrition. A nutritionist can help develop a nutritional program that includes proper foods and supplements if necessary to help balance the diet.
Refraining from consuming excessive amounts of alcohol is the number one way to reduce the risk of developing alcoholic liver disease. Because the condition can occur with only moderate alcohol intake, abstinence or occasional drinking is recommended as an effective prevention method.
Complications from alcoholic liver disease can include:
Continuing to consume alcoholic drinks after being diagnosed with alcoholic liver disease can lead to a worsening of the condition, additional complications, liver failure and even death. Support groups can be an effective way of managing stress related to alcoholic liver disease and seeking encouragement with cutting out alcohol consumption. Keep in mind, the liver is capable of repairing itself. However, this is only possible up to a certain extent of damage (see: Can Liver Damage From Alcohol Be Reversed?).