Alcoholic liver disease
Alcoholic liver disease is damage to the liver and its function due to alcohol abuse.
Liver disease due to alcohol; Cirrhosis or hepatitis - alcoholic; Laennec's cirrhosis
Alcoholic liver disease occurs after years of heavy drinking. Over time, scarring and cirrhosis can occur. Cirrhosis is the final phase of alcoholic liver disease.
Alcoholic liver disease does not occur in all heavy drinkers. The chances of getting liver disease go up the longer you have been drinking and more alcohol you consume. You do not have to get drunk for the disease to happen.
The disease is common in people between 40 and 50 years of age. Men are more likely to have this problem. However, women may develop the disease after less exposure to alcohol than men. Some people may have an inherited risk for the disease.
There may be no symptoms, or symptoms may come on slowly. This depends on how well the liver is working. Symptoms tend to be worse after a period of heavy drinking.
Early symptoms include:
As liver function worsens, symptoms may include:
Exams and Tests
Your health care provider will do a physical exam to look for:
Tests you may have include:
Tests to rule out other diseases include:
Some things you can do to help take care of your liver disease are:
MEDICINES FROM YOUR DOCTOR
When cirrhosis progresses to end-stage liver disease, a liver transplant may be needed. Liver transplantation for alcoholic liver disease is only considered in people who have completely avoided alcohol for 6 months.
Alcoholic liver disease is treatable if it is caught before it causes severe damage. However, continued excessive drinking can shorten your lifespan.
Cirrhosis further worsens the condition and can lead to serious complications. In case of severe damage, the liver cannot heal or return to normal function.
Complications may include:
When to Contact a Medical Professional
Contact your provider if you:
Get emergency medical help right away if you have:
Talk openly to your provider about your alcohol intake. The provider can counsel you about how much alcohol is safe for you.
Carithers RL, McClain CJ. Alcoholic liver disease. In: Feldman M, Friedman LS, Brandt LJ, eds. Sleisenger and Fordtran's Gastrointestinal and Liver Disease. 10th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 86.
Chalasani NP. Alcoholic and nonalcoholic steatohepatitis. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman-Cecil Medicine. 26th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 143.
Haines EJ, Oyama LC. Disorders of the liver and biliary tract. In: Walls RM, Hockberger RS, Gausche-Hill M, eds. Rosen's Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2018:chap 80.
Hübscher SG. Alcohol-induced liver disease. In: Saxena R, ed. Practical Hepatic Pathology: A Diagnostic Approach. 2nd ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2018:chap 24.
Review Date: 7/10/2019
Reviewed By: Michael M. Phillips, MD, Clinical Professor of Medicine, The George Washington University School of Medicine, Washington, DC. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
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