Alcohol-related liver disease

What is Alcohol-related liver disease?

Alcohol-related liver disease (ARLD) refers to liver damage caused by excess alcohol intake. There are several stages of severity and a range of associated symptoms.

ARLD falls into three main stages:

Stage one: Fatty Liver (steatosis)

This is the earliest and most common form of liver disease caused by excessive alcohol consumption. The build-up of fats in liver cells makes it hard for the liver to function. The good news is that the condition usually goes away if you stop drinking alcohol.

Stage two: Alcoholic hepatitis

This occurs when liver cells have been destroyed and the liver becomes inflamed and swollen. Symptoms can include fever, jaundice, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain and tenderness.

Mild alcoholic hepatitis can continue for years and gradually cause liver damage, but still may be reversible. The more severe form can appear suddenly, often after a drinking binge, and can have serious complications.

Stage three: Alcohol-related cirrhosis

This is the most severe form of ARLD and occurs when the normal liver tissue is replaced with scar tissue and becomes hard and ineffective. Symptoms include accumulation of fluid in the abdomen, high blood pressure in the liver, bleeding from veins in the oesophagus, behaviour change and confusion, and an enlarged spleen.

Causes

Alcohol-Related Liver Disease is caused by drinking an excessive amount of alcohol, usually over a long period of time. This can be in the form of binge drinking – or drinking excessive amounts regularly.

Treatment

Decreasing the amount of alcohol consumed or stopping drinking altogether will usually help reverse early signs of ARLD and is vital to stop the condition becoming worse.

Steps to help prevent and reverse some of the damage of ARLD include:

  • Talking to a doctor about managing alcohol consumption
  • Eating a well-balanced, nutritious diet, low in salt to reduce the risk of developing swollen legs and stomach
  • Taking only medications or drugs prescribed by a doctor.

For most people, drinking moderate amounts of alcohol will not lead to Alcohol-Related Liver Disease. However, if you have chronic liver disease (a condition lasting more than six months) even small amounts of alcohol can make your liver worse.

People with Alcohol-Related Liver Disease, and those with cirrhosis from any cause, should not drink alcohol at all. The more you drink over time increases the risk, but not everyone who drinks will develop disease.

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LiverWELL, trading as Hepatitis Victoria is the peak community organisation working across the state for people affected by, or at risk of, liver disease and viral hepatitis.

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