Alcoholism is a serious illness that may lead to a number of complications in one’s personal or professional life. However, extreme alcohol abuse may also lead to a number of physical complications in prolonged cases, including cirrhosis which is scarring and tissue thickening of the liver. This condition may also occur as a result of severe hepatitis. Scarring of the liver may eventually lead to failure of the organ and, without a transplant of the organ, death.
Cirrhosis of the liver can be identified by a number of external symptoms. This can include the following:
- more than 3 spider angiomas: spider web-like clusters of dilated blood vessels close to the surface of the skin
- jaundice or yellowing of the skin or eyes
- development of breasts in men
- swelling of the abdomen or lower extremities
- gastrointestinal bleeding
Cirrhosis of the liver presents a number of dangers for an individual. The scarring that is associated with the disease may cause the flow of blood in the organ to slow which leads blood to find other means of returning to the heart, such as through the esophagus and stomach. Increased pressure in the blood vessels in this area may lead to increased pressure and ruptures.
Unfortunately, the progression of this condition cannot be reversed and there is no cure. However, if it is brought to medical attention soon enough, then it will be possible to slow or stop its effects. The only exception to this, in more pronounced cases, is the possibility of a liver transplant. Because of the level of gravity involved, it is necessary to seek attention as soon as one is diagnosed.
Cirrhosis of the liver is such a dangerous condition because it affects a vital organ. The liver is critical to the body’s digestive system and processes alcohol, along with other food or drink. This organ also controls the levels of fat, sugar and protein in the bloodstream. The liver also assists the immune system by eliminating viruses and bacteria from the bloodstream.
Thankfully, the liver is pretty resilient, withstanding injury or disease but only up to a certain point. There is still the possibility of living a healthy life with what remains of the liver if cirrhosis is addressed in time. However, in more critical cases, the functionality of the liver may not be able to be as well maintained because there will not be as many healthy cells to care for the usual responsibilities of the organ.
The role alcohol plays
Cirrhosis may be caused by substance abuse, viruses, genetic abnormalities and more. Yet the most common cause by far is alcohol abuse. The likelihood of damage directly increases with how much alcohol is consumed over a person’s lifetime. The probability is also greater for women than men because each gender processes alcohol by different means. However, all who drink heavily should be sure to have regular medical checkups to be on the safe side.
While cirrhosis is a possibility for those who drink large quantities, such patients may also contract alcoholic hepatitis. This occurs when the liver is irritated, leading to symptoms such as loss of appetite, fever, nausea, confusion and more. Any drinker who has a period of sustained and heavy drinking may experience a fatty liver because the liver swells with excess water and fat. This may lead to pain in the area of the organ, as well as poor functioning. The person may gain weight, have higher cholesterol levels and may contract diabetes. Specific forms of viral infection in the liver may also lead to scarring which occurs often in more prolonged hepatitis.
If a patient has been diagnosed with cirrhosis of the liver, then it will be necessary to take preventive measures to keep the disease from becoming more unmanageable. The person will need to stop drinking immediately to prevent further damage and should seek professional assistance if they have become dependent on alcohol. All prescription or over the counter medications will need to be discussed with a doctor as certain medications should not be risked with a weakened liver system. Additionally, medications meant to help combat cirrhosis can be discussed as well as helpful dietary adjustments such as low sodium intake and zinc supplements. By being responsible and following doctor’s orders, those with this condition may still be able to lead a relatively normal and healthy life.
If you or your loved one is struggling with alcohol addiction don’t hesitate to seek help. Sovereign Health Group provides treatment for those dealing with mental health disorders, addiction or co-occurring conditions. To learn more about our programs call us at (866) 819-0427.
Written by Sovereign Health Writer, Ryan McMaster