According to the CDC, alcoholic liver disease was the cause of death for 15,990 Americans in 2012, but were some of these deaths preventable? As the only organ with the ability to heal itself, the liver offers a unique opportunity to those suffering from alcoholic liver disease. Let’s quickly glance at this disease, including possible symptoms and complications.In addition, we’ll look at what can be done to reverse the condition.
The truth is that in many cases the liver is able to completely overcome the damage it has suffered. However, this is completely dependent upon the person and their commitment to giving their liver the opportunity to heal.
WHAT IS ALCOHOLIC LIVER DISEASE?
Actually, this disease is broken down into three stages, including:
1. FATTY LIVER
The first stage is an early indicator of further liver damage to come. Excessive alcohol consumption (typically over 40 ml daily) causes fat to accumulate on the liver. This impairs the liver’s ability to filter harmful substances from anything we eat or drink. Approximately 10 to 20 percent of Americans have too much fat in their liver, though it is not always the result of excessive alcohol consumption.
In most cases, no symptoms are experienced, though on occasion a person may complain of slight abdominal pain and fatigue. Fatty liver caused by alcoholism is completely reversible. In fact, after 6 weeks of abstaining, the fat will be completely gone. However, if drinking continues you will transition to the next stage.
2. ALCOHOLIC HEPATITIS
In the second stage, alcohol produces highly toxic chemicals when the liver attempts to break it down, resulting in the formation of scar tissue. It begins to replace the healthy tissue within the liver causing inflammation, and leading to swelling and damage. Hepatitis usually develops after years of chronic overconsumption. However, it can also be caused by binge drinking, or consuming a large amount of alcohol in a short time period.
Symptoms, including frequent nausea and vomiting, abdominal pain or swelling, confusion, decrease in appetite, weight loss, and yellowing of the skin or eyes, may or may not be experienced. When symptoms appear, it is usually in the later stages of hepatitis. As with fatty liver, alcoholic hepatitis can be reversed, in many cases completely, if the individual stops drinking. If not, the condition will worsen and progress to the third stage.
This is the final stage of alcoholic liver disease and is the result of extensive scar damage. The damage causes the blood vessels to stiffen, eventually distorting the liver’s internal structure. This, in turn, causes other organs, usually the brain and kidneys, to malfunction. 15 to 30 % of alcoholics will advance to this stage.
As with the other stages, a person may not experience any symptoms or if they do, they may be so vague that it doesn’t necessarily indicate the liver is the cause. When symptoms occur, they typically include weakness, fatigue, yellowing of the skin and eyes (jaundice), itching, and decreased appetite. Actually, most people learn they have cirrhosis after showing signs of the complications of cirrhosis.
Complications can be severe and include bleeding from esophageal varices, hepatic encephalopathy, enlargement of the spleen, liver cancer, and ascites. On another note, it is important to understand that cirrhosis can be caused by diseases other than alcoholism, so it is never safe to assume anyone with this diagnosis is now, or has ever been, as alcoholic. In the most extreme cases of cirrhosis, it cannot be reversed, however it is possible to stabilize it.
REVERSING ALCOHOLIC LIVER DISEASE
It is only because the liver is so intent on healing itself that you can completely reverse alcoholic liver disease in many cases. The only way to give the liver this opportunity is by completely abstaining from drugs and alcohol. If this is not done, you cannot entirely reverse the effects, though you can lessen them if you decrease the amount you drink. In addition, many experts agree that you can kick-start the regeneration process by participating in a liver cleansing.
The liver is a powerful organ, second only to the brain. Given the opportunity to function properly, it can have a tremendous impact on your overall health.