What Alcohol Can Do to Your Liver
Bob Aronson, the author of this blog, is a recovering alcoholic (since 1982), a former smoker and a 2007 heart transplant recipient. He wrote this blog about two years ago but because of hundreds of inquiries about how alcohol affects the liver he is re-posting it.
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 liver is 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 hepatitis is 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. In some cases a liver transplant is the only life-saving option.
Alcoholic cirrhosis is 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 from fatty liver to 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 as viral hepatitis C.
The ALF makes it very clear that if you have any liver disease you must stop drinking, period! “Your 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 view our two brand new video “Thank You From the Bottom of my Donor’s heart” on You
Tube at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ifyRsh4qKF4 This video was produced to promote organ donation so it is free and no permission is needed for it’s use.
Another important video is “A Transplant for Nurse Lori” this brave woman has Multiple Sclerosis and needs help paying her share of the bill for a procedure that can halt the disease in its tracks and even reverse some of it. Watch the video at http://www.OrganTI.org.
Also…there is more information on this blog site about other donation/transplantation issues.
We would love to have you join our Facebook group, Organ Transplant Initiative The more members we get the greater our clout with decision makers.
You may comment in the space provided or email your thoughts to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. And – please spread the word about the immediate need for more organ donors. There is nothing you can do that is of greater importance. If you convince one person to be an organ and tissue donor you may save or positively affect over 60 lives. Some of those lives may be people you know and love.