Alcohol-Related Liver Disease (ARLD)

Alcohol-Related Liver Disease (ARLD)

Overview

Alcohol-related Liver Disease is characterised by damage to the liver caused by years of alcohol abuse. The liver damage caused by excessive alcohol consumption causes swelling, inflammation and reduces liver function. The final stage of this degeneration is cirrhosis, where the liver fails.

Signs and symptoms

Alcohol-related liver disease has three stages of severity –

  • Alcoholic fatty liver disease - Fat accumulates within the liver and slowly starts affecting its function. There may be little or no symptoms, but mild changes in blood tests and scans can be identified. This stage can be completely reversed by stopping alcohol consumption.
  • Acute Alcoholic Hepatitis - The liver becomes inflamed and swollen. Patient may develop jaundice, fatigue, swelling in the abdomen and feet. Blood tests are usually very abnormal. This stage is reversible with medical treatment and complete and permanent abstinence from consuming alcohol. Occasionally however, this stage may progress into a rapid deterioration in liver function with worsening jaundice, bleeding tendency and coma, which may be life-threatening.
  • Liver cirrhosis - This is a late-stage and the liver becomes scarred from continued liver damage and liver function is permanently reduced. It also becomes very susceptible to any further injury. A patient suffering from alcohol-related liver disease would experience jaundice, nausea, loss of appetite, abdominal cramps or pain, fatigue and dark stools. They may also experience unexplained weight loss, fainting, agitation, mood swings, disorientation, and bleeding gums.

Causes and risk factors

The cause of alcohol-related liver disease is alcohol abuse. These patients also have associated malnutrition due to a lack of a healthy balanced diet.

Complications

Alcohol-related liver disease could cause permanent scarring and loss of liver function. It could also cause portal hypertension, hepatic encephalopathy and bleeding of ruptured oesophageal varices.

Diagnosis

Alcohol-related liver disease is one of many diseases that cause extensive liver damage. In addition to a detailed patient history, the doctor will need to perform multiple tests to rule out the other conditions. The doctor may require a complete blood count, a liver function test, an abdominal ultrasound, an abdominal CT scan, and a liver biopsy. A liver enzyme test will also be required.

Treatment and Surgical Interventions

The treatment of alcohol-related liver disease is geared to address the liver disease as well as alcoholism. This is necessary to prevent further liver damage and help the liver heal. The doctor may recommend an alcoholics rehabilitation program and an increase in vitamin intake. In case severe cirrhosis has already set in, a liver transplant may be the only option which can help the patient lead a good quality life. However, transplant rules are strictly subject to the patient’s commitment to de-addiction.

Prevention

Avoiding the consumption of alcohol can help prevent alcohol-related liver disease.

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