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Alternative Names Return to topLiver disease due to alcohol; Cirrhosis or hepatitis - alcoholic; Laennec's cirrhosis
Definition Return to top
Alcoholic liver disease is damage to the liver and its function due to alcohol abuse.
See also: Cirrhosis
Causes Return to top
Alcoholic liver disease usually occurs after years of excessive drinking. The longer the alcohol use and the more alcohol that was consumed, the greater the likelihood of developing liver disease.
Acute alcoholic hepatitis can result from binge drinking. It may be life-threatening if severe.
People who drink excessively can become malnourished because of the empty calories from alcohol, reduced appetite, and poor absorption (malabsorption) of nutrients in the intestines. Malnutrition contributes to liver disease.
Other factors that contribute to the development of alcoholic liver disease:
Alcoholic liver disease does not affect all heavy drinkers. Women may be more susceptible than men. It is not necessary to get drunk for the disease to develop.
Symptoms Return to top
Changes start in the liver as inflammation (hepatitis) and lead to fatty liver and cirrhosis. Cirrhosis is the final phase of alcoholic liver disease.
Symptoms may not be present until the disease is advanced, and may include:
Other symptoms that can occur with this disease:
Symptoms vary based on the severity of the disease. They are usually worse after a recent period of heavy drinking.
Exams and Tests Return to top
Tests to rule out other diseases include:
Treatment Return to top
The most important part of treatment is to stop using alcohol completely. If liver cirrhosis has not yet occurred, the liver can heal if you stop drinking alcohol.
An alcohol rehabilitation program or counseling may be necessary to break the alcohol addiction. Vitamins, especially B-complex and folic acid, can help reverse malnutrition.
If cirrhosis develops, you will need to manage the complications of cirrhosis. You may need a liver transplant.
Support Groups Return to top
You can often ease the stress of illness by joining a support group whose members share common experiences and problems.
Outlook (Prognosis) Return to top
Continued excessive drinking can shorten your lifespan. The outcome will likely be poor if you keep drinking.
Possible Complications Return to top
When to Contact a Medical Professional Return to top
Call your health care provider if:
Prevention Return to top
Discuss your alcohol intake with your doctor. The doctor can counsel you about how much alcohol is safe to drink for your situation.
References Return to top
Carithers RL, McClain C. Alcoholic liver disease. In: Feldman M, Friedman LS, Brandt LJ. Feldman: Sleisinger & Fordtran's Gastrointestinal and Liver Disease. 8th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2006:chap 81.
Schuppan D, Afdhal NH. Liver cirrhosis. Lancet. 2008;371:838-851.Update Date: 12/12/2008 Updated by: A.D.A.M. Editorial Team: David Zieve, MD, MHA, Greg Juhn, MTPW, David R. Eltz. Previously reviewed by Christian Stone, MD, Division of Gastroenterology, Washington University in St. Louis School of Medicine, St. Louis, MO. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network (5/20/2008).