Alcoholic liver disease occurs when a drinker’s liver is damaged significantly. It is quite an all-encompassing term for a variety of symptoms. Generally, no symptoms occur until the damage is very extensive. Because of this, it is common for cirrhosis to be diagnosed during tests for other conditions. People with a history of alcohol abuse or misuse should contact their GP to request a liver function test.
Liver Cirrhosis Symptoms
Because symptoms generally aren’t noticed until it is too late, people must regulate their drinking. There are various cirrhosis stages and the symptoms will depend mainly on which stage the patient is in.
With alcoholic fatty liver disease, there are usually no symptoms at all until the amount of fatty acids on the liver reach critical levels. The symptoms here can include:
• Loss of appetite
• General weakness
• Abdominal pain
• Feeling unwell
With alcoholic hepatitis, another one of the cirrhosis stages, the symptoms can include:
• Abdominal tenderness or pain
• Yellowing of the skin and eyes, known as jaundice
• Loss of appetite
• Prominent red blood vessels, often described as spider-like, on the skin
If the disease progresses and becomes full blown alcoholic cirrhosis, the symptoms appear in two stages. Firstly, the liver will start to lose parts of its functions. Then, the liver completely loses its function, which is known as liver failure. During the first stage, the symptoms include:
• Weakness and tiredness
• Weight loss
• Loss appetite
• Itchy skin
• Feeling sick
• Blotchy red palms
Most often, there is no pain or tenderness around the liver area. Typically, with various forms of liver disease, there is no pain at all, which is very deceptive.
In the second and later stages of liver cirrhosis, symptoms include:
• Hair loss
• Dark urine, as well as stools that are turning either black and tarry or very pale
• Oedema (build-up of fluid) in the ankles, legs, feet or belly. In fact, it can look as if you are heavily pregnant, which is known as ascites
• Frequent bleeding, including vomiting blood
• Pain in the right shoulder
• Loss of libido
• Fatigue, malaise and dizziness
• Rapid heartbeat
• Confusion and impaired cognitive function
• Personality changes
• Weight loss
Treatment of Liver Cirrhosis
Treatment can only be provided to those who are willing to stop drinking alcohol and change their overall lifestyle. Full abstinence is required, and this can truly be vital. Liver cirrhosis life expectancy is often only a few months for those who are unwilling to abstain from alcohol. The same is true for people with alcoholic hepatitis. Only with alcoholic fatty liver disease is it possible to drink again after a while. Most people with cirrhosis are alcohol dependent and hence require other forms of help too.
• Self-help groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous
• Medication such as disulfiram and acamprosate. However, these medications have very severe side effects and hence can only be administered by registered medical professionals. They have to be taken under close supervision.
• Liver cirrhosis diet, which is almost always offered.
Liver Cirrhosis Diet
Nutritional therapy is incredibly important, because most people with liver cirrhosis are malnourished. This is because they have a lack of appetite and because their liver doesn’t function properly anymore and thereby interferes with proper digestion.
The diet is generally very high in calories, carbohydrates and protein. Generally, sufferers will also need to take various supplements such as vitamins and minerals. Again, this all has to be advised by a medical professional.
In worst case scenario, if the liver is damaged beyond repair, people will require a liver transplant. Once this stage is reached, the cirrhosis life expectancy is reduced tremendously, not in the least because transplant waiting lists are very long.