What Does Alcohol Do To Your Liver?
Did you know your liver is the largest internal organ, in your body? It’s vitally important! It helps your body digest food, store energy and remove poisons. Its main role is as a detoxifier, helping your body get rid of waste products. It also plays an important role in fighting infection. If your liver is damaged, you typically won’t know until it becomes a medical emergency.
The regular and prolonged use of alcohol can result in damage to your liver, causing various forms of liver disease. Simply, the more alcohol that you drink, the more you damage your liver. Alcoholic liver disease accounts for over a third of all liver disease deaths every year.
What Does Alcohol Do to Your Liver?
Fatty Liver Disease
Your liver breaks down most of the alcohol you drink so it can be removed from your body. But the process of breaking it down can generate harmful substances. These substances can damage liver cells, promote inflammation, and weaken your body’s natural defenses.
Alcoholic fatty liver disease is the earliest stage of alcohol-related liver disease. Symptoms include abdominal pain, fatigue, and weight loss. Fatty liver disease cannot be cured. Symptoms can last an entire lifetime. More than 3 million Americans suffer from it every year.
Over time, as these toxins damage your liver cells, the liver becomes inflamed. When the liver becomes inflamed, it cannot function properly. This is a condition known as alcoholic hepatitis. You do not have to be a heavy drinker to be at risk. In fact, all but occasional drinkers and non-drinkers are at risk.
If you have it, you might wake up and notice that your skin or the whites of your eyes look yellow—a condition called jaundice. You might also have a fever, stomach ache, nausea, vomiting, appetite loss, fatigue, and even male impotence. The damage of alcoholic hepatitis can be reversed, but requires long-term abstinence from drinking.
Hepatic Encephalopathy, Ascites and Hypoalbuminemia
Hepatic encephalopathy is a decline in brain function that occurs as a result of severe liver disease. In this condition, your liver can’t adequately remove toxins from your blood. This causes a buildup of toxins in your bloodstream, which can lead to brain damage.Symptoms include extreme confusion, altered levels of consciousness, coma, and even death.
Ascites is the accumulation of fluid in the peritoneal cavity, causing abdominal swelling. This may make it difficult for the diaphragm (the flat muscle that separates the chest form the abdomen) to assist with breathing, causing shortness of breath. As the amount of fluid increases, you may sense a fullness or heaviness in the abdomen.
Hypoalbuminemia is a medical condition where levels of albumin in the blood are abnormally low. Symptoms include cramps, loss of appetite, fluid around the lungs, swelling all over the body, weakness, and more.
All of the above diseases can be caused by excessive drinking. More often than not, if one of these occurs, then alcoholic hepatitis was already a factor. However, prolonged drinking with alcoholic hepatitis, or with one or more of the above diseases, can lead to much worse.
Liver cirrhosis occurs when your liver cells become so damaged they are literally being replaced by scar tissue. At this point, your liver has been inflamed so often and for so long that it becomes lumpy and hard. Blood and other bodily fluids can no longer properly pass through and be filtered.
Cirrhosis can occur from continuing to drink with either fatty liver disease or alcoholic hepatitis. It can also occur from certain medications, abuse of other drugs, and gallstones, however it is most commonly associated with alcohol abuse. Cirrhosis can NOT be cured. The liver damage caused by cirrhosis cannot be reversed. Symptoms are similar to those of alcoholic hepatitis, only worse.
There are many different types of liver cancer. The type associated with alcohol-caused cirrhosis is called hepatocellular carcinoma, or HCC. It is the most common type of liver cancer. The scarring from cirrhosis can develop a cancerous tumor inside the liver. Aside from pre-existing liver conditions, alcohol use is the main risk factor for HCC.
Liver cancer is incurable. It can be treated with chemotherapy and/or radiation. Other options include liver transplant or removal of part of the liver. Symptoms are similar to those of cirrhosis, only more intense. Hepatitis types B and C are the most common causes of liver cancer.
If you have begun to experience symptoms of liver disease, it is important to stop drinking immediately. For an alcoholic, this can be difficult and often requires the help of professionals. Turning to an alcohol rehabilitation facility will get you the treatment you need to control your addiction and begin treating the damage it has caused to your liver, and is causing to your life.
At Honey Lake Clinic, we believe faith-based treatment, encompassing your spiritual, physical and mental health, will provide you with the long-lasting tools and knowledge you need to break alcohol’s grip.
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