Recognizing The Early Signs of Alcoholic Liver Failure

 In Alcoholism

Alcohol abuse can certainly take a toll on the body resulting in alcoholic liver failure.

Think about it...

If you were asked what one of the most important organs in your body is, what would you say?

You might not immediately think about the liver, but you should.

Here's what makes the liver so important...

The liver’s cells interact by carrying blood and bile between them.

The liver is a central role in your body’s metabolic functions.

Anything you ingest eventually makes its way to the liver.

Imagine the liver as your body’s filter. Alcohol, drugs, medication, and nutrients make their way to your liver.

Damage to your liver means damage to your body’s filter.

 

Alcoholic Liver Disease

Overconsumption of alcohol has the potential to cause alcoholic liver disease.

Unfortunately, it can be fatal.

Jaundice and tremors are typically some of the first symptoms noticed by a person who has alcoholic liver disease.

Treatment options can vary, but they usually entail medication, a change to your lifestyle, and surgery.

Signs of liver damage from alcohol may be difficult to detect because the liver is very good at repairing itself and staying active, even under stress.

However, there are signs and alcoholic liver disease symptoms to watch for.

 

Early Symptoms of Alcoholic Liver Disease

Patients with alcoholic liver disease may notice an overall feeling of achiness and a general feeling of being unwell. These vague symptoms are often difficult to attribute to alcoholic liver disease but are common in most cases. Patients with early alcoholic liver disease may also experience some of the following symptoms. These symptoms of liver problems range from minor to severe.

  • Abdominal pain
  • Nausea
  • Decreased appetite
  • Swelling of the lower limbs
  • Extremely itchy skin
  • Blood in vomit
  • Losing a significant amount of weight

 

Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease

The most common cause of a fatty liver is the overconsumption of alcohol.

The more you tend to drink, the more at risk you are for developing this disease.

Fatty liver disease is scientifically called hepatic steatosis.

This basically translates to a condition of a buildup of fat in the liver.

If there is too much fat in the liver, it prevents the liver from functioning properly.

Usually, fatty liver disease can be reversible.

Alcoholic fatty liver symptoms can range from bloating to confusion.

However, in the case of alcoholic fatty liver disease, if an alcoholic cannot abstain from alcohol they run the risk of complicating matters further and even suffering from liver failure.

Some signs of liver failure are included below. Liver failure means that your liver is either losing its functions or has lost its functions.

  • Bloating
  • Loss of appetite
  • Jaundice
  • Itching or swelling
  • Confusion

 

Alcoholic Liver Cirrhosis

As the patient’s condition from alcohol-induced liver damage worsens, they may be told they have alcoholic liver cirrhosis.

Alcohol cirrhosis usually develops after years of drinking.

You may develop alcoholic cirrhosis if you had fatty liver disease in the past in relation to your alcohol use.

Some alcoholic cirrhosis symptoms are:

  • Bleeding in your mouth or blood in your vomit
  • Confusion or difficulty concentrating
  • Loss of muscle
  • Yellowing of your skin

 

Diagnostic testing is required to determine if a patient is suffering from cirrhosis of the liver.

The diagnosis will also include a physical exam. You can expect a diagnosis to go something like this.

A medical professional will start with a physical exam.

They will look for any external symptoms of cirrhosis.

These may present themselves as muscle weakening, jaundice, or bruising.

The medical professional will also take this opportunity to learn about your medical history and your habits.

This would include learning or documenting your alcohol use.

A blood test is the next important test that will occur.

All you will need to do is go in for a blood test and this will be able to tell your medical professional how well your liver is working.

It will highlight if there are any other areas of concern and what your levels look like.

It will also tell your doctor if you are getting the correct amount of nutrients since your liver is damaged.

In more advanced cases, a doctor may order a biopsy or an imaging test to be done.

In a biopsy, a piece of your liver will be removed and tested under a microscope to see how damaged it is.

An imaging test will be able to pinpoint where the damage is and how much healthy tissue is remaining.

 

Treatments For Alcoholic Liver Cirrhosis

  • Abstaining from alcohol is one of the most effective treatment options for patients that suffer from liver cirrhosis. Unfortunately, this may be a difficult option for an alcoholic. However, ceasing use of alcohol allows the liver to take a break and begin repairing itself.

 

  • A patient changing their lifestyle can significantly impact the quality of their lives. So, changing some habits will improve the liver. Eating and drinking properly will assist in this process. If you are drinking heavily, your doctor may set you up on a plan to slowly wean you off your alcohol or help you get connected to a local treatment center.

 

  • If your condition continues to worsen and damage to your liver cannot be reversed, your doctor may suggest having a liver transplant. This would mean you are now experiencing total liver failure and need a new one. This will replace your nonfunctional liver with a much healthier one.

 

Stages of Alcoholic Liver Disease

Abuse of alcohol is one of the main causes of damage to your liver.

Abstaining from alcohol is sometimes the only way a person can recover from alcoholic liver disease.

It is important to recognize the signs, symptoms, and speak to your medical professional as soon as possible if you’re an alcoholic.

They will help diagnose you and put you on a treatment plan.

Alcohol is a depressant.

It not only represses the nervous system, but it also drains bodies of nutrients and fluids.

There are four stages of alcoholic liver disease.

  • A fatty liver can develop. Fatty liver alcohol intolerance can also develop, where you feel the need to drink more and more to gain the same effects. If you are someone who drinks heavily, more fatty acids may start to collect in your liver. This liver spotting can occur within weeks where pools of fatty acids begin to form.
  • Alcoholic Hepatitis can then form. This will form usually after years of heavy drinking, along with periods of binge drinking. The liver will be inflamed and swollen.
  • You may then experience alcoholic fibrosis. When too many proteins build up in the liver, a patient will experience alcoholic fibrosis. The liver is not able to filter out toxins and break down proteins.
  • The patient may then experience alcoholic cirrhosis. This happens when a patient has had liver damage for years and continues to drink heavily. Since the liver has been inflamed for so long and has not been able to repair itself, scar tissue develops over healthy tissue. The liver loses its function. This final stage can lead to liver cancer.

 

Can You Reverse Liver Damage From Alcoholism?

Liver damage from alcohol has the potential to become irreversible.

The liver is very susceptible to alcohol because the liver is where alcohol is metabolized.

Depending on what stage of liver damage you are in will determine what proper steps you need to take in order to begin repairing the damage you have done.

Most of this, however, depends on the patient's willingness to stop drinking alcohol and making changes to their lifestyle.

  • The damage caused by fatty liver disease has the potential to be reversed. This can be done in as little as two weeks if the client abstains from alcohol. After two weeks, the patient can drink again after consultation with their medical professional as long as they stay within certain guidelines.
  • If you have been diagnosed with alcoholic hepatitis, fibrosis, or cirrhosis your medical professional may make the recommendation of lifelong abstinence. Your doctor will recommend this option because the damage that has been done is severe. This is the only way to prevent you of potentially dying from liver disease.

Most people with liver disease have an alcohol dependency problem. It’s a necessary part of the treatment process to allow your liver to heal. If you do not stop drinking, even medical or surgical treatments will fail.

 

Going Through Withdrawal

An alcoholic attempting to abstain from alcohol to help repair their liver may experience withdrawal symptoms.

If you are a heavy drinker, you most likely will experience the worst symptoms during the first two days after you have stopped drinking alcohol.

Your body will work to try to quickly adjust to these new changes you are experiencing.

The timelines for each individual drinker may vary, but your medical professional can help you better understand how long your body will need to make the complete adjustment.

Oftentimes, if you are a heavy drinker, a medical professional will create a personalized guide for how to “wean” yourself off of the alcohol and gradually reduce your intake.

This is especially true if you have tried abstaining and experienced very negative withdrawal effects.

Some patients will need therapy assistance along with their guidelines.

Your medical professional will refer you to a behavioral therapist, as well as potentially prescribe you a medication.

The most common medication for alcohol dependence is a benzodiazepine.

However, after speaking to your doctor, you may both agree on a plan that requires treatment at a rehabilitation.

Rehabilitation can offer medication as well as professional therapy.

These can also be beneficial as some provide support groups to help an alcoholic overcome their dependency.

 

How To Prevent Relapse

Once you have become sober, you and your doctor may discuss preventative measures to take in order to prevent a relapse. Most doctors or treatment centers will offer their patients cognitive therapy options.

Talking to a trusted and experienced professional can help them overcome their thoughts of drinking.

If therapy does not seem to work, your doctor may prescribe you a medication.

These medications may be naltrexone or disulfiram. These drugs are used to treat alcohol abuse by affecting the brain’s desire receptors.

 

Joining a Self-Help Group

Joining a self-help group can be extremely beneficial to both abstaining from alcohol and remaining sober.

You can join a self-help group at any stage in the process.

Alcoholics Anonymous is one of the more popular groups that alcoholics can join.

These self-help groups are good for peer support, self-reflection, and creating goals.

 

Liver Transplant

For liver disease that is severe, you may be in a liver failure stage.

Unfortunately, once you reach this stage, there is no way to reverse the damage that has been done to your liver.

The only way to cure irreversible liver damage is by having a liver transplant.

However, your surgeon or doctor may not recommend you for the procedure if you do not meet all of the criteria.

  • You are in otherwise good health besides your liver. If you are likely to survive the transplant, then you could be a candidate.
  • You must commit to not drinking alcohol the rest of your life and show documentation and that you are already on that path. A surgeon will not want to perform the procedure if you will later have liver failure again due to alcoholism.

Alcoholism can cause significant damage to your body, including your second largest organ: your liver.

Your liver is one of the most important organs that could sustain life-threatening damage due to alcohol intake.

What you put into your body should be watched, considering medications, toxins, and nutrients all flow to your liver.

Your liver works tirelessly to be your filter, only giving you the good nutrients.

However, if you overwork your liver you can cause irreparable damage that can lead to liver failure and even death. Take the steps today to get help for your alcoholism to prevent liver damage and failure.

 

Sources

[1] Alcoholic liver disease: Symptoms, treatment, and causes. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/215638.php

[2] Alcoholic Cirrhosis. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://stanfordhealthcare.org/medical-conditions/liver-kidneys-and-urinary-system/alcoholic-cirrhosis.html

[3] Can Alcohol Lead to Fatty Liver Disease? (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.alcohol.org/effects/fatty-liver-disease/

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