Effects of Alcohol on the liver

Alcohol consumption on a regular basis can affect your overall physical and mental well-being. Long-term consumption of alcohol can affect the liver, heart, cause cancers, and remains a leading cause of death in many parts of the world. The way your body processes alcohol depends on how long you have been drinking and how much you drink. Alcohol consumed is primarily processed in the liver. Thus, there is a strong correlation between liver damage and alcohol consumption. It is important to maintain a fine balance of alcohol consumption to ensure good liver health.

What does the healthy liver do?

The liver is the second largest organ in the body. It is a multifunctional organ located on the upper right side of the abdomen. It has an important role in digestion by producing bile, storing nutrients, producing clotting agents, and breaking down toxins, drugs, and alcohol. The enzymes in the liver work very hard to remove toxins and alcohol. Further, the liver is important to cleanse the blood and store glycogen for energy. Thus, good liver health is important for overall health.

Long term effects of alcohol

The liver is the primary organ in alcohol metabolism. 90% of alcohol is processed by the liver, the rest is removed from the body through urine, sweat, and breathing. Prolonged use of alcohol can lead to scarring of liver tissue. On average, the liver takes an hour to metabolize one small alcoholic drink. The more you drink the longer it takes to process alcohol and the more strain on the liver. Normally, liver tissue can regenerate itself, however consistent use over a long time can cause scarring, and eventually, scar tissue will replace healthy tissue. 

The early stages of liver damage are usually asymptomatic. As liver damage progresses, it manifests in several forms:

  1. Alcoholic fatty liver disease
  2. Alcoholic hepatitis
  3. Liver cirrhosis
  4. Liver and other forms of cancers

Alcoholic fatty liver disease

This is the first sign of liver damage. Fat begins to accumulate around liver tissue. By-products of alcohol breakdown are potentially harmful substances and can cause inflammation and fat deposition of the liver. If it has been diagnosed early, Alcoholic fatty liver disease can be reversed simply by abstaining from alcohol. However, this stage is hard to detect as there are no symptoms. It is usually identified in general health checkups and scans. Having your liver checked by the best liver transplant hospital will prevent you from acquiring further liver diseases and damages

Alcoholic hepatitis

Chronic consumption of alcohol can cause inflammation and scarring of liver tissue. One obvious symptom of this condition is yellowing of skin & eye. This symptom is commonly known as jaundice. Fluid accumulates in the abdomen and in the foot (edema). Other manifestations of alcoholic hepatitis include loss of appetite, vomiting, tenderness around the abdomen, fever, and weakness. If unchecked it can cause permanent liver and kidney damage and can prove fatal. Sometimes, even heavy drinking(binge drinking) over a short period of time can cause hepatitis. With proper medical attention and abstinence from alcohol, this condition can be cured and reversed.

Cirrhosis

This is the third stage of liver damage when the liver is significantly scarred. Prior to this stage, sometimes fibrosis is noticed. In fibrosis, there is a buildup of certain kinds of scar tissue in the liver.

In the cirrhosis stage, the liver is unable to renew its tissue and scarred tissue begins to replace healthy liver tissue. In this stage of liver damage, the liver becomes stiff, shrunken, and unable to do its work. Advanced stages of liver cirrhosis can be life-threatening. Usually, liver cirrhosis leads to secondary complications such as kidney, brain & lung damage. Other main risk factors include Obesity & diabetes.

Although it is not reversible, worsening of symptoms can be prevented by immediately stopping alcohol.

Other complications

Liver damage caused due to chronic alcohol consumption can cause

  • Internal bleeding
  • Fluid accumulation
  • Dark-colored stool
  • Increased chances of infection
  • Liver cancer
  • Kidney damage
  • Disorientation

Treating Alcoholic liver diseases

There aren’t many treatment options for severe alcoholic liver damage. The drugs that are used to treat only prevent the worsening of the condition. Antibiotics are helpful for liver-related infections. Early stages of liver damage can be reversed by checking alcohol consumption. For advanced stages, a liver transplant may be advised.

Preventing Alcohol-related liver damage (ARLD)

The key to good liver health is moderating alcohol consumption. Even if you have been drinking alcohol for many years it is good to take stock of your health immediately and stop consumption. Always remember to keep your alcohol consumption lower than the recommended amounts. Talk to your doctor and understand what is the right amount of alcohol for your body. Those who are under medication for other conditions, need to check before mixing medicines and alcohol to prevent any cross-reactivity. Other lifestyle modifications such as a healthy diet, exercise, and quitting smoking are greatly beneficial in preventing liver damage. A high fiber diet, with copious amounts of fruits and vegetables, is usually recommended. Staying hydrated and drinking a lot of water is good for optimal liver function. Most importantly, it is always better to be safe than sorry. Routine health checkups, blood tests, and scans can help you identify the problem early and nip it in the bud.

The liver plays a very important role in maintaining good health. Liver damage if unchecked can cause lifelong effects and affect lifestyle. With a healthy liver, there is a lower risk of liver and pancreatic cancers, better metabolism and detoxification, and higher antioxidant levels.

It is always important to pay heed to your healthcare provider’s advice in case of liver issues. Liver damage can significantly affect your life expectancy. Hence it is important to closely monitor the liver and its symptoms in order to identify any kind of liver damage and to

Seek the right liver damage treatment

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