Alcoholic Liver Cirrhosis

What is alcoholic liver cirrhosis?

The liver is a vital body organ because of the weight of its functions. It is involved in filtering toxins out of the blood. It also contributes to the breakdown of proteins and fats obtained from ingested food. The liver secretes bile which is very useful in fat digestion.

When you drink alcohol consistently for a very long period of time, your liver tissues will start getting replaced by scarred tissues. The more you drink, the more the good tissues will gradually be replaced with scarred ones. Your liver can stop working at once when most of its tissues have become scarred. This state where all the good tissues in the liver have been changed to scarred tissue is called liver cirrhosis.

Speculation from the American Liver Foundation has it that about 10-20% of heavy drinkers will eventually experience cirrhosis.

Liver cirrhosis caused by alcohol is the highest form of any liver disease.

It usually begins with fatty liver disease. Then it advances to alcoholic hepatitis. Hepatitis then leads to cirrhosis. There are other instances of cirrhosis that were developed without having hepatitis.

Symptoms associated with alcoholic liver disease

People between age 30 and 40 who have been drinking heavily should start developing symptoms of liver cirrhosis. The body has a way of compensating for the liver tissues at the early stage of the condition. But this won’t last for long. As the disease advances, its symptoms become more noticeable. Examples of such symptoms are:

Alcoholic liver disease
Photo Credit: Medical News Today

What causes alcoholic liver cirrhosis?

The major cause of alcoholic liver cirrhosis is heavy drinking that has been consistent. The more scarred the liver tissues are, the more the liver finds it hard to produce proteins in sufficient amount in the body. It will also affect its ability to remove toxins out of the blood.

Groups of People Who Are More Likely to Get This Condition

Those who have abused alcohol for nothing less than eight years are the chief category of people with the highest risk of having alcoholic liver cirrhosis.

Heavy drinking, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, is defined as consuming nothing less than 5 drinks in a day out of a minimum of five days in a month.

Women are not excluded from alcoholic liver cirrhosis.

Women have fewer amounts of digestive enzymes for breaking down alcohol particles. This shortage thus makes more alcohol to get to the liver and cause scarring.

Genetics also has a contributing factor to the development of alcoholic liver disease. This is especially true in people who are born without the presence of the enzymes that are involved in the breakdown of alcohol.

Hepatitis C, obesity and consumption of high-fat foods can predispose one to have alcoholic liver disease.

Diagnosis for alcoholic liver cirrhosis

Your doctor can readily diagnose the presence of alcoholic liver cirrhosis by evaluating your medical history. This will be followed by a review of your drinking history. Other diagnostic tests might as well be ordered for by your doctor. Typical alcoholic liver cirrhosis should show the following:

  • low blood sodium levels
  • anemia
  • high blood ammonia level
  • low blood magnesium levels
  • high blood sugar levels
  • leukocytosis – large amount of white blood cells
  • low blood potassium levels
  • scarred liver tissue  
  • aspartate aminotransferase (AST) twice the concentration of alanine aminotransferase (ALT)
  • portal hypertension

Other conditions that might affect the liver will be ruled out in the course of diagnosis.

Complications of alcoholic liver cirrhosis

Alcoholic liver cirrhosis has the ability to promote the development of severe complications referred to as decompensated cirrhosis. Decompensated cirrhosis will likely require a surgical replacement of the liver. These complications include:

  • ascites i.e. fluid accumulation in the stomach
  • internal bleeding i.e. bleeding varices
  • encephalopathy i.e. mental confusion
  • jaundice – yellow coloration of the skin and eyes

The Cleveland Clinic has observed that most people who will undergo a liver transplant because of decompensated cirrhosis might live 5 years or more.

How is alcoholic liver cirrhosis treated?

Some forms of cirrhosis can be reversed with the right treatment combination. And some cannot be reversed. Those that can’t be reversed can be slowed in the rate at which they progress. Symptoms can also be improved.

The first goal of treatment is to see how to help the person stop drinking alcohol and become sober. Trying to quit drinking without the help of professionals can cause the person to develop grave consequences.

Other treatments can include:

  • Medications: i.e. insulin, corticosteroids, S-adenosyl-L-methionine (SAMe), calcium channel blockers, and antioxidant supplements
  • Nutritional counseling – alcohol abuse mostly goes with malnutrition.
  • Extra protein to reduce the chances of developing brain disease
  • Liver transplant that will be when the person has become sober. This can take about 6 months or thereabout after which a liver transplant will be considered.

Outlook on Alcoholic Liver Cirrhosis

Your overall health and the degree of complications developed determine the general outlook.

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