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Early Signs Of Alcohol-Related Liver Damage

Published on August 16, 2021
Early Signs Of Alcohol-Related Liver Damage

Early signs of alcohol-related liver disease, or ALD, include jaundice, loss of appetite, abdominal pain, and buildup of fluid in the stomach.

If early symptoms are spotted and diagnosed properly, ALD can be reversed and treated. If not, fatty liver disease can progress to inflammation of the liver, fibrosis, cirrhosis, liver failure, and even death.

Alcohol & Your Liver

The liver does most of the metabolizing or breaking down, of alcohol in your body. Excessive drinking can affect important enzymes in the liver that break down alcohol properly.

When liver enzymes change their function due to alcohol intake, they are more likely to produce a fatty acid, which can build up in the liver. Fatty liver disease, or steatosis, is the earliest stage of alcoholic liver disease.

Binge drinking, heavy drinking, and other forms of excessive drinking can increase your risk of ALD. Other risk factors, such as obesity and genetics, can also add to your risk.

Early Stages Of Alcohol-Related Liver Disease

Early signs of liver damage can be hard to spot, as a fatty liver may not cause immediate health problems. Once more symptoms show up, ALD may have progressed beyond the first stage already.

Fatty Liver Disease

Alcoholic fatty liver disease, or alcoholic steatosis, is the first visible stage of alcohol-related liver damage. An enlarged liver and jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes) are potential signs of fatty liver disease. 

Many FLD patients do not have any symptoms at all, making FLD hard to diagnose without proper testing. 

Fatty liver disease can be spotted with liver tests and blood tests. If these tests show signs of FLD, you may need a liver biopsy where a part of your liver tissue is taken out and looked at. 

Since the fatty liver disease does not have many physical symptoms, these tests may be done for other health problems, such as hepatitis B or a family history of liver problems.

Alcoholic Hepatitis

Alcohol-related hepatitis is the second stage of alcoholic liver disease. During this stage, more warning signs may develop as the liver function continues to worsen. Jaundice during hepatitis can get worse and more visible than in the previous stage, fatty liver disease.

Symptoms of alcoholic hepatitis range from mild to severe, and may include:

  • fever
  • weight loss
  • ascites (buildup of fluid in the stomach)
  • internal bleeding in the stomach area
  • portal hypertension (reduced blood flow in the vein leading to the liver)

The more severe symptoms often point to more serious forms of alcoholic hepatitis. Once hepatitis reaches this stage, it can be much harder to reverse, and medical professionals are more likely to focus on managing the disease.

Risks Of Living With Early Stage Alcoholic Liver Disease

If it is not diagnosed, or if alcohol use continues, the liver damage often gets worse over a long period of time. Alcoholic hepatitis can become liver fibrosis, where healthy liver cells are replaced with scar tissue.

As alcoholic liver disease progresses, liver function and overall health tend to get worse. 

In severe cases of liver cirrhosis or liver failure, a liver transplant may be needed. Transplants are difficult to obtain and are not always successful, making late-stage ALD a life-threatening condition.

Treating Alcoholic Liver Disease

If you enter treatment for ALD, your treatment likely depends on how far the disease has progressed. There’s a strong chance you’ll be told to stop drinking alcohol completely. 

ALD is likely caused by chronic alcohol abuse, making it hard for many patients to control the amount of alcohol they drink.

Treatment for an ALD involves reducing the physical and mental damage caused by alcohol. Treatment options may include getting therapy, practicing lifestyle changes, and learning skills to help you stay sober in the long term.

To find the best alcohol recovery program for yourself or a loved one, talk to your healthcare provider or contact us today.

Written by Ark Behavioral Health Editorial Team
This page does not provide medical advice.

Alcohol Research - Alcoholic Liver Disease: Pathogenesis and Current Management
National Library of Medicine: MedlinePlus - Fatty Liver Disease | MedlinePlus
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) - Alcohol Alert #64
PubMed Central - Alcoholic and nonalcoholic steatohepatitis

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