‘Noticeable symptoms’ of alcohol-induced liver disease

Doctors outline how binge drinking can cause death

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Alcohol-related fatty liver disease develops in three stages, the NHS confirms, which can begin as soon as you’ve consumed a large volume of alcohol in “just a few days”. Drinking alcohol can lead to an excess of fat building up in the vitally important organ. Regarded as “alcoholic fatty liver disease”, this is the first stage of the condition.

This stage “rarely causes any symptoms”, so you may carry on drinking not realising that anything is wrong.

The second stage is alcoholic hepatitis, which can also occur after a session of binge drinking.

Drinkaware defines binge drinking as more than six units of alcohol in a single session for women, or more than eight units for men.

The charity clarifies: “That’s equivalent to about four pints of normal strength beer for a man or three pints for a woman.”

To put units into perspective, one unit of alcohol is equivalent to:

One single (25ml) of spirit, such as vodka, gin, rum, or tequila.

Be aware that many pubs and bars have switched to 35ml or 50ml measurements, which means a single spirit could be more than one unit.

The NHS says “noticeable symptoms” that your liver is “badly damaged” include:

  • Abdominal pain (stomach ache)
  • Loss of appetite
  • Fatigue
  • Feeling sick
  • Diarrhoea
  • Feeling generally unwell.

As the liver becomes more damaged, the third stage of the condition can occur – cirrhosis.

Cirrhosis describes a “significantly scarred” liver that is “generally not reversible”.

Advanced liver disease can lead to:

  • Jaundice
  • Swelling in the legs, ankles, or feet
  • Swelling in the abdomen
  • High temperature and shivering attacks
  • Very itchy skin
  • Hair loss
  • Clubbed fingers
  • Blotchy red palsy
  • Significant weight loss
  • Weakness and muscle wasting
  • Confusion and memory problems.

Signs of internal bleeding can include passing black, tarry poo and vomiting blood.

Nosebleeds and bleeding gums may become more frequent, and there might be changes in personality due to a build-up of toxins in the brain.

The NHS adds: “If you misuse alcohol, you may have liver damage, even though you have none of the symptoms above.”

People can assess their drinking using the CAGE test, which consists of four questions:

  1. Have you ever thought you should cut down on your drinking?
  2. Have people annoyed you by criticising your drinking?
  3. Have you ever felt guilty about your drinking?
  4. Have you ever drunk an “eye-opener”, which means: have you ever drunk alcohol first thing in the morning to get over a hangover and steady your nerves?

The NHS says: “If you answer ‘yes’ to one or more of the questions above, you may have an alcohol problem and are advised to see your GP.”

For those who have a damaged liver, the organ can repair itself up to a point.

In the most advanced stages, when the liver has become scarred, even being teetotal will not heal the scarred parts of the organ.

Not drinking will, however, significantly extend your lifespan, although a liver transplant might be required in severe cases.

The NHS adds: “You’ll only be considered for a liver transplant if you have developed complications of cirrhosis despite having stopped drinking.”

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