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Can Heavy Alcohol Use Cause Liver Lesions?

Published on August 16, 2021
Can Heavy Alcohol Use Cause Liver Spots Or Lesions?

Heavy alcohol use can cause all sorts of problems to the liver, including cirrhosis of the liver and other forms of liver disease. With liver disease, liver lesions may occur and be either benign and not too worrisome or malignant and potentially lead to life-threatening issues like liver cancer.

What Are Liver Lesions?

Drinking alcohol in large amounts can lead to groups of abnormal cells in your liver called liver lesions. They can also be known as a liver mass or liver tumor. 

Benign or noncancerous liver lesions are the most common. They don’t spread to other areas of the liver or to other parts of the body. 

Unfortunately, some liver lesions can be cancerous and need to be treated as soon as possible.

What Causes Liver Lesions?

Most benign liver lesions don’t have a direct cause. They can be found on anyone’s liver and aren’t threatening. Malignant lesions are usually due to cancer that has spread from another organ. 

Lesions are also commonly associated with alcohol-related liver diseases like cirrhosis and alcohol-related hepatitis. Excessive alcohol consumption can also put you at an increased risk of liver lesions.

Types Of Liver Lesions

There are several types of liver lesions that are either malignant or benign.

Hemangioma Liver Lesions

Hemangioma is the most common type of benign liver lesion. It’s an abnormal mass of blood vessels and is usually asymptomatic.

Hepatic Adenoma Liver Lesions

Hepatic adenoma is a less common benign lesion that’s typically found in women who use oral contraceptive pills or anyone who takes anabolic steroids. 

Focal Nodular Hyperplasia Liver Lesions

Focal nodular hyperplasia is the second most common type of benign liver lesion. It is usually asymptomatic but can cause abdominal pain or gastrointestinal discomfort.

Hepatoma (Hepatocellular Carcinoma Liver Lesions)

Hepatoma is the most common type of primary malignant liver lesion. It is most commonly associated with cirrhosis but can also be linked to alcohol use disorder or alcoholic hepatitis (inflammation of the liver).

Liver Metastases (Hepatic Metastases)

Also known as secondary liver cancer, this type of lesion occurs when cancer starts in one part of the body and moves to the liver. 

Risk Factors For Liver Lesions

While anyone can develop liver lesions, there are some factors that make it more likely to have cancerous lesions, including:

  • hepatitis b or c
  • cirrhosis (scar tissue (fibrosis) buildup forms over damaged liver cells, prevents blood flow into the liver, and can lead to cancer)
  • obesity
  • ingesting arsenic
  • heavy drinking/binge drinking

Symptoms Of Liver Lesions

While benign liver lesions don’t usually have symptoms, some do. Malignant liver lesions often come with adverse side effects. Some of the symptoms may include:

  • bloating
  • abdominal pain
  • feeling of fullness
  • nausea and vomiting
  • build-up of fluid in the abdomen (ascites)
  • weight loss
  • ​loss of appetite
  • feeling weak or tired
  • high blood pressure (portal hypertension)
  • jaundice (yellowing of the skin or eyes)
  • fever

Diagnosing Liver Lesions

Whether the lesion is benign or cancerous, it’s best to catch it in its early stages. That means your healthcare provider will likely order multiple tests including:

  • blood tests: these tests look for protein levels, viral hepatitis, abnormal blood clotting, and overall liver function
  • liver function tests: this test may be performed to assess liver functioning and to detect liver lesions that cause obstructions
  • imaging tests: these tests show where a lesion is on your liver and how big it is
  • liver biopsy: a small sample of the lesion is taken to look for problem cells in the liver tissue

Treatment For Liver Lesions

If the lesions are benign, you likely don’t need to do anything unless there’s additional liver damage. If the lesions are malignant, or you’re at risk of liver failure, there are several forms of treatment your healthcare provider may suggest, including: 

  • chemotherapy
  • transarterial chemoembolization (tace)
  • radiofrequency ablation (rfa)
  • liver transplant

If you or a loved one is struggling with alcohol abuse, please call our helpline to learn about your addiction treatment options.

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