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Fatty Liver Disease Symptoms: Signs of Liver Damage from Excess Alcohol Intake

Are you drinking too much alcohol?

Alcohol consumption is one of the leading causes of liver damage. When liver damage has happened due to alcohol, it’s called alcohol-related liver disease (ARLD), which is a type of fatty liver disease. There are several stages of alcohol-related liver disease. Cirrhosis, the most serious stage of liver disease, usually takes many years to develop. The NHS UK says ARLD does not usually cause any symptoms until the liver has been severely damaged. Knowing about liver damage at an early stage allows you to make decisions that will help your liver to recover.

How much alcohol is too much?

You don’t have to be addicted to alcohol to develop the condition, regularly drinking too much alcohol can put you at risk. It’s only too simple, the more alcohol you drink, the higher your risk of developing alcohol-related liver disease. It can make other types of liver disease worse too. It’s a lot easier to overdrink than many people realise, putting them in danger of alcohol-related illnesses.

It’s important to be aware and honest about how much and how often you drink alcohol and to find out whether your drinking has caused any harm and to what extent. It is estimated that alcohol-related fatty liver disease develops in 90 percent of people who drink more than 40g of alcohol, or four units, per day, according to Drinkaware. The organisation notes that is roughly the equivalent of two medium (175ml) glasses of 12 percent ABV (Alcohol by volume) wine, or less than two pints of regular strength (four percent ABV) beer.

Symptoms associated with ARLD

The early stages of alcohol-related liver disease often have no symptoms. Because of this, you may not even know that you’ve experienced liver damage due to alcohol. If symptoms are present, they may include swelling of your liver, which may lead to discomfort in the upper right side of your abdomen. ARLD symptoms also include fatigue, unexplained weight loss, loss of appetite, nausea and vomiting. You may also observe yellowing of the eyes and skin and experience swelling in the ankles. A damaged liver can also lead to confusion, drowsiness and you may vomit blood or pass blood in your stools.

How does alcohol damage my liver?

One of your liver’s jobs is to break down potentially toxic substances such as alcohol. When you drink, different enzymes in your liver work to break down alcohol so that it can be removed from your body. Drinking more than your liver can effectively process can damage your liver. This initially takes the form of increased fat in your liver, but over time it can lead to inflammation and the accumulation of scar tissue.

The liver is capable of regenerating itself, but each time your liver filters alcohol, some of the liver cells die. The liver can develop new cells, but prolonged alcohol misuse over many years can reduce its ability to regenerate. This can result in serious and permanent damage to your liver. Reducing the amount you drink, ideally to zero, can help reverse damage, and reduce the risk of disease progression.

Other risk factors which fuel ARLD

Along with drinking excessive amounts of alcohol, there are several other factors which can increase your chances of developing ARLD. These include being overweight or obese and having a pre-existing liver condition, such as hepatitis C. Women appear to be more vulnerable than men to the harmful effects of alcohol. Genetics can also be an important factor as alcohol dependence and problems processing alcohol often run-in families.

What is Alcohol hepatitis?

Alcoholic hepatitis is inflammation of the liver due to drinking alcohol. It is most likely to occur for those who drink heavily over many years. However, not all heavy drinkers develop alcoholic hepatitis, and it can also occur in people who drink moderately.

Common symptoms of alcoholic hepatitis include abdomen tenderness, pain over the liver, nausea, vomiting blood, poor appetite, yellowing of the skin and eyes, weight loss, tiredness and fever.

Alcohol causes and worsens alcoholic hepatitis, so a diagnosis of alcoholic hepatitis means you should stop drinking gradually. Quitting alcohol can help reduce symptoms and prevent further damage. As per a 2017 research, people with permanent liver damage due to heavy alcohol use who continued drinking had a 30 percent decrease in survival rate, in comparison to people who stopped drinking.

How to prevent fatty liver disease?

As discussed earlier, alcohol can damage the liver to a great extent, which is why limiting your alcohol-intake is strongly advised, especially if you have a pre-existing liver condition.

Additionally, ensure that you eat a healthy diet and indulge in regular exercise and physical activity. Maintain a healthy weight at all times.

Most importantly, seek medical advice if your symptoms worsen and take your medications as prescribed by the doctor.

Impact of fatty liver disease on body

Scientists have found that a fatty liver can cause damage to other organs of your body as well. They demonstrate the effects of fatty liver disease on the function of the hormone-producing islet cells in the pancreas and on the functioning of the kidneys. When left untreated, fatty liver disease can lead to inflammation, fibrosis, and cirrhosis. Inflammation can cause liver damage and scarring due to cirrhosis isn't reversible. If you develop cirrhosis, it increases your risk of developing liver cancer and liver failure. These complications can prove to be life threatening.

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