Alcohol abuse and addiction are known to cause a number of different health conditions, especially when the abuse is chronic. One of these conditions is alcoholic liver cirrhosis. The American Liver Foundation estimates that between 10 and 20 percent of heavy drinkers will develop cirrhosis of the liver.
Alcoholic cirrhosis is the most severe form of liver disease that can result from chronic alcohol abuse. This condition is a progressive illness, meaning that it worsens over time. The longer a person abuses alcohol, the higher his or her risk is of developing liver cirrhosis.
What Is Alcoholic Liver Cirrhosis?
Alcoholic cirrhosis of the liver is characterized by late-stage scarring of the liver. Chronic alcohol abuse can cause damage to the liver. In response, the liver begins to replace healthy tissue with scar tissue. As a result, the liver is unable to function properly.
Because this condition is progressive, damage to the liver happens gradually over an extended period of time. Liver damage as a result of chronic heavy drinking may begin as fatty liver disease and slowly progress to cirrhosis. Many people also experience alcoholic hepatitis before developing cirrhosis.
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The liver is responsible for a number of important functions within the body. These include breaking down proteins, filtering out toxins from the blood, and helping the body absorb fats. As cirrhosis advances, blood flow through the liver can become blocked. This can prevent the liver from functioning and can result in health complications and even death.
Symptoms Of Alcoholic Cirrhosis
Many people do not experience symptoms of this condition until the disease is in advanced stages. The more scar tissue present in the liver, the more likely a person is to begin experiencing symptoms.
Common symptoms of liver cirrhosis include:
- easy bleeding or bruising
- swelling in the ankles, legs, or feet
- reduced appetite and weight loss
- itchy skin
- red palms
- visible blood capillaries
- accumulation of fluid in the stomach
Alcoholic cirrhosis symptoms usually begin between the ages of 30 and 40. In the early stages of this disease, the body can make up for the liver’s diminishing function. As the disease progresses, symptoms will worsen and become more noticeable. More severe symptoms of alcoholic liver cirrhosis include vomiting blood, confusion, and increased risk of infection.
Causes Of Alcoholic Cirrhosis
In the case of alcoholic liver cirrhosis, chronic alcohol abuse is the primary cause of this condition. The liver is responsible for breaking down and ridding the body of toxins like alcohol. When excess amounts of alcohol are consumed, the liver is unable to properly break down this substance. This can result in damage to the liver cells.
The longer a person abuses alcohol, the more likely he or she is to develop this condition. Cirrhosis of the liver is typically caused by at least 10 years of chronic heavy drinking.
Women tend to be more at risk of developing alcoholic cirrhosis. This is due to the fact that women have fewer enzymes in the stomach than men. Lower enzymes make it more difficult for the liver to properly break down toxins like alcohol.
Additionally, genetics may play a role in the development of alcoholic liver cirrhosis. Individuals who are born with fewer stomach enzymes are at an increased risk of liver damage due to alcohol abuse.
Diagnosing Alcoholic Cirrhosis
Alcoholic cirrhosis is typically not diagnosed until later stages due to the lack of symptoms at the initial onset of this condition. Liver cirrhosis may also be diagnosed when a person is undergoing tests for other conditions.
A doctor will typically begin by reviewing a patient’s medical history and discussing his or her drinking habits. If alcoholic liver cirrhosis is suspected, the doctor will likely run a series of tests to conclusively diagnose the condition.
Common tests used to diagnose liver cirrhosis include:
- blood tests
- biopsy of the liver cells
- imaging tests such as MRIs or CTs
- endoscopy to look for swollen blood vessels
If alcoholic cirrhosis is detected, the physician will likely recommend the patient seek immediate treatment.
Treatment For Alcoholic Cirrhosis
Liver damage caused by alcoholic cirrhosis typically cannot be reversed. However, if the condition is detected early on, further damage can often be prevented. Treatment can also help slow the progression of the disease.
Treatment for alcoholic cirrhosis begins with helping the person stop drinking. Continuing to drink will only worsen the condition. People with alcoholic liver cirrhosis are often severely dependent on and addicted to alcohol, so a medically supervised detox program will likely be recommended.
Once a person has successfully stopped using alcohol, inpatient alcoholic treatment is often the next step. Inpatient programs help individuals get and stay sober through various forms of therapy and other addiction treatments.
Additional treatments that may be used to slow the progression of liver cirrhosis include medication, increased protein consumption, and nutritional counseling. If the disease is severe enough, a liver transplant may be needed.
To learn more about alcoholic cirrhosis and its causes, symptoms, and treatment options, contact a treatment specialist today.