Alcoholic liver disease is the result of excessive alcohol consumption over a period of time. It is a severe and fatal consequence of alcohol abuse. Alcohol abuse over the years leads to the replacement of healthy liver tissue with scar tissue. Considered as one of the biggest reasons for acute liver damage, alcohol is not only life-threatening but can also cause liver failure. Excessive consumption of alcohol can result in scarring of the liver and can cause ALD (alcohol-related diseases).
ALD occurs in three stages viz. Fatty Liver, Alcoholic Hepatitis, and Liver Cirrhosis.
Fatty Liver – It is the first stage of ALD, and is also known as steatosis. Fatty Liver is a highly prevalent liver disease, which is characterized by an excessive accumulation of fat inside the liver cells. It makes it hard for the liver to function properly. Heavy drinkers usually get to the fatty liver stage in their early years of alcohol abuse. This reversible if alcohol use is stopped.
Alcoholic Hepatitis – The second stage of ALD, Alcoholic Hepatitis is characterized by the inflammation of the liver leading to the degeneration of liver cells quickly. This stage might last for some years but will eventually progress to absolute liver damage if the patient continues to drink. In critical cases, it can lead to life-threatening complications like liver cirrhosis and absolute liver damage. Jaundice is the most common symptom in this stage along with the following:
- Loss of appetite
- Abdominal tenderness
- Fatigue and weakness
- Weight loss
Liver Cirrhosis – Liver cirrhosis is the last and final stage of Alcoholic Liver Disease where permanent scarring of healthy liver tissue occurs. It is a severe condition and an irreversible one. A patient with liver cirrhosis will witness liver failure symptoms, along with the symptoms of alcoholic hepatitis:
- Fluid accumulation in the abdomen
- Spleen enlargement
- Bleeding from veins
What are the Treatment Options for Alcoholic Liver Disease?
Complete abstinence from alcohol is the most important therapeutic intervention for people with Alcoholic Liver Disease. Abstinence from alcohol reduces the risk of further damage to the liver, but it also provides it with a chance to recover. Patients suffering from ALD should completely refrain from drinking, thereby improving the outcome & histological features of hepatic injury. They should give their body a chance to reduce portal pressure and decrease progression to cirrhosis. It eventually helps to improve survival at all ALD stages.
One of the major complications of ALD is malnutrition, especially in patients who are on the second stage of alcoholic hepatitis. In patients with ALD, protein-calorie malnutrition is highly prevalent. Patients in any stage of alcoholic liver disease must consult a hepatologist and get started with nutritional therapy at earliest. It can help in alleviating the symptoms and improving the present stage of the liver.
Medications (Pharmacological Therapy)
For ALD patients, a hepatologist is likely to prescribe various drugs and medications after carefully screening the symptoms and stages of the disease.
A liver transplant may be the only treatment option in severe cases of ALD where the liver has stopped functioning, and there is no improvement even after the patient stops drinking. The consideration for a liver transplant is different, and it is only taken into account when the patient has developed complications of cirrhosis or if the body does not respond to other treatments including medications. However, ALD is one of the most common indications of a liver transplant.
It is absolutely vital for the person with ALD to completely abstain from alcohol if they want to improve their chances of survival. A change in lifestyle is necessary for the life of a person suffering from the alcoholic liver disease. In case of liver failure due to advanced stages of ALD, only a liver transplant can save the person. So, it is important to start today and abstain from alcohol altogether.