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Excessive drinking of alcoholic beverages is a key cause of many liver diseases. These range from fairly mild liver problems such as alcoholic fatty liver disease, to more serious problems such as alcoholic hepatitis, to alcoholic cirrhosis of the liver, which is an extremely serious disease progressing to complete liver failure and death.


Liver disease can result from other causes as well, including obesity, heredity, medication side effects, and viral infections, but alcohol abuse is a very common reason why the liver becomes damaged and so a prime suspect when liver damage presents.


The term "alcoholic liver disease" or "alcohol liver" is a catch-all term referring to all disorders of the liver that spring from alcohol consumption. Exactly why alcohol damages the liver is not completely understood.


Some eighty percent of alcohol consumed passes through the liver before being eliminated from the body, and in the process increases certain liver processes that can cause inflammation and eventually fibrosis in the liver cells, but not everyone who drinks heavily suffers this sort of disorder; only about 15-20% of heavy drinkers develop alcoholic hepatitis or cirrhosis of the liver. Nevertheless, any damage to the liver is always taken seriously and alcohol is always the first suspect as a cause.


Alcoholic Fatty Liver


Fatty liver disease is a fairly mild condition in which the liver accumulates deposits of lipids (fats) that appear to medical imaging as globules. The condition usually occurs without overt symptoms. Continued below…

It can be detected through medical imaging, usually after a blood test reveals elevated liver enzymes. Heavy drinking results in fatty liver disease in a majority of cases, although the disease has other causes as well; the distinction between alcoholic and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease is almost entirely a matter of what is causing the condition and hence what the recommended treatment should be.


If alcoholic fatty liver disease is diagnosed, the treatment is simply to stop drinking. The condition is usually reversible if the cause of the problem is removed.


Alcoholic Hepatitis


When most people think of hepatitis, we think of the viral infection (from any of fifteen different families of virus) that can cause liver failure along with other symptoms. Actually, hepatitis means only inflammation of the liver. It can result from excessive drinking as well as from viral infection, and this condition is known (appropriately enough) as alcoholic hepatitis. This is a somewhat more serious manifestation of alcohol liver.


Symptoms often accompany this condition, including abdominal swelling, pain in the abdomen or other parts of the body, nausea, loss of appetite, and jaundice.


Recommended treatment of alcoholic hepatitis is, as usual with alcohol-related liver problems, to stop drinking; in addition, other treatments may be prescribed for symptoms or to allow the damage to the liver to be more readily repaired.


Alcoholic Cirrhosis Of The Liver


Alcoholic fatty liver is not a very serious alcohol liver disorder; alcoholic hepatitis is more serious but generally reversible. Alcoholic cirrhosis of the liver is in another category of alcohol liver altogether. It is a progressive and extremely serious condition leading to complete liver failure, coma, and death if not detected and treated. Cirrhosis may result from other causes besides alcohol abuse; as with most liver diseases it refers to a condition rather than a cause. Alcohol abuse is a common reason why cirrhosis develops, however.


Cirrhosis develops in four clearly defined stages. The first stage consists of inflammation of liver tissues. At this point, the disease is reversible. If alcohlic cirrhosis of the liver is detected in the first stage and the patient stops drinking, the body is usually able to repair the damage. In later stages, damage can be irreversible, although sufficient liver functioning can be retained to live a normal life if the cause -- excessive drinking -- is cured.


In the second stage of cirrhosis of the liver, the swollen liver tissue hardens into fibrous masses. This condition is known as "fibrosis." In the third stage, the fibrotic tissues developed in stage 2 merge into larger masses and liver functioning is impaired.


The fourth and final stage of alcoholic fibrosis of the liver sees a breakdown in liver function, potentially leading to coma and death. Cirrhosis of the liver is the most serious manifestation of alcohol liver and a cause for aggressive treatment.


As always, the first recommendation for alcoholic cirrhosis of the liver is cessation of drinking. The earlier this is done, the better for the patient's prognosis. Stage 1 cirrhosis of the liver can be reversed. Later stages can be arrested, but generally the damage is irreversible. If the disease progresses all the way to stage 4, a liver transplant is generally necessary.  


Alcohol liver should always be taken seriously, though. Excessive alcohol consumption is bad for the health in a great many ways, but when it begins to damage the liver, cessation of alcohol abuse is simply mandatory.

Alcohol Liver

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