Alcoholic liver cirrhosis is the most advanced type of liver disease that is related to drinking alcohol. It is estimated that between 10 and 20 percent of heavy drinkers will develop alcoholic cirrhosis. This condition involves your liver replacing healthy tissue with scar tissue due to decades of heavy drinking. Eventually, your liver will stop functioning normally. Here is an overview of what you should know about alcoholic cirrhosis.
In the early stages of alcoholic cirrhosis your body compensates for your liver’s limited function, but as the disease progresses, symptoms become more noticeable. This usually occurs during a person’s 30s and 40s. Symptoms of alcoholic cirrhosis include:
- Portal hypertension (increased blood pressure in the vein that travels through the liver)
- Skin itching (pruritus)
Alcoholic cirrhosis is caused by damage to the liver from persistent and excessive alcohol consumption. When your liver tissue begins to scar, it does not function as well as it did before. For example, your body’s ability to produce enough proteins or filter toxins out of the blood is impaired.
The following factors can increase your risk of alcoholic liver cirrhosis:
- Alcohol Abuse: Consuming 5+ drinks in one day at least 5 of the past 30 days increases your chances.
- Being Female: Because women don’t have as many enzymes in their stomachs to break down alcohol particles, more alcohol can reach the liver and form scar tissue.
- Genetics: Some people are born with a deficiency in enzymes that contribute to eliminating alcohol.
- Other: Obesity, a high-fat diet, and hepatitis C also increases your chances of having alcoholic cirrhosis.
First, your doctor will look at your medical history, and then you will undergo a series of diagnostic tests that can confirm an alcoholic cirrhosis diagnosis. Test results may show:
- Anemia (low blood levels due to too little iron)
- High blood ammonia level
- High blood sugar levels
- Leukocytosis (large amount of white blood cells)
- Unhealthy liver tissue
- Liver enzyme blood tests that show the level of aspartate aminotransferase (AST) is two times that of alanine aminotransferase (ALT)
- Low blood magnesium levels
- Low blood potassium levels
- Low blood sodium levels
- Portal hypertension
Alcoholic liver cirrhosis normally can’t be reversed. There are treatment options, however, that may possibly slow the progression of the disease and help treat some symptoms. The first step is to stop drinking alcohol. Those with alcoholic cirrhosis are dependent on alcohol and could experience health complications if they stopped drinking. Therefore, it is recommended that they seek help with quitting and stay at a hospital or treatment facility.Other treatments options include:
Other treatments options include:
- Medications: Doctors may prescribe medications such as corticosteroids, calcium channel blockers, insulin, antioxidant supplements, and S-adenosyl-L-methionine (SAMe).
- Nutritional Counseling: Alcohol abuse can cause malnutrition.
- Extra Protein: To decrease the risk for developing encephalopathy (brain disease), extra proteins may be needed.
- Liver Transplant: Before being considered a candidate for liver transplant, a person must be sober for at least six months.
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