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    Alcoholic liver disease

    Liver disease due to alcohol; Cirrhosis or hepatitis - alcoholic; Laennec's cirrhosis

    Alcoholic liver disease is damage to the liver and its function due to alcohol abuse.


    Alcoholic liver disease occurs after years of heavy drinking. Alcohol can cause inflammation in the liver. Over time, scarring and cirrhosis can occur. Cirrhosis is the final phase of alcoholic liver disease.

    Alcoholic liver disease does not occur in all heavy drinkers. The chances of getting liver disease go up the longer you have been drinking and more alcohol you consume. You do not have to get drunk forthe disease to happen.

    The disease seems to be more common in some families. Women may be more likely to have this problem than men.


    Symptoms vary, based on how bad the disease is. You may not have symptoms in the early stages. Symptoms tend to be worse after a period of heavy drinking.

    Digestive symptoms include:

    • Pain and swelling in the abdomen
    • Decreased appetite and weight loss
    • Nausea and vomiting
    • Fatigue
    • Dry mouth and increased thirst
    • Bleeding from enlarged veins in the walls of the lower partof the esophagus (tube that connects your throat to your stomach)

    Skin problems such as:

    • Yellow color in the skin, mucus membranes, or eyes (jaundice)
    • Small, red spider-like veins on the skin
    • Very dark or pale skin
    • Redness on the feet or hands
    • Itching

    Brain and nervous system symptoms include:

    • Problems with thinking, memory, and mood
    • Fainting and lightheadedness
    • Numbness in legs and feet

    Exams and Tests

    • Complete blood count (CBC)
    • Liver biopsy
    • Liver function tests

    Tests to rule out other diseases include:

    • Abdominal CT scan
    • Blood tests for other causes of liver disease
    • Ultrasound of the abdomen


    The most important part of treatment is to stop using alcohol completely. If liver cirrhosis has not yet occurred, the liver can heal if you stop drinking alcohol.

    An alcohol rehabilitation program or counseling may be necessary to break the alcohol addiction. Vitamins, especially B-complex and folic acid, can help reverse malnutrition.

    If cirrhosis develops, you may need to manage the complications of cirrhosis. You may need a liver transplantif there has been a lot of liver damage.

    Support Groups

    Many people benefit from joining support groups for alcoholismor liver disease.

    Outlook (Prognosis)

    Continued excessive drinking can shorten your lifespan.Your risk for complications such as bleeding, brain changes, and severe liver damage go up. The outcome will likely be poor if you keep drinking.

    When to Contact a Medical Professional

    Call your health care provider if:

    • You develop symptoms of alcoholic liver disease.
    • You develop symptoms aftera long periodof heavy drinking.
    • You are worried that drinking may be harming your health.


    Talk to your doctor about your alcohol intake. The doctor can counsel you about how much alcohol is safe for you.


    Carithers RL, McClain C. Alcoholic liver disease. In: Feldman M, Friedman LS, Brandt LJ. Feldman: Sleisinger & Fordtran's Gastrointestinal and Liver Disease. 9th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2010:chap 84.

    Schuppan D, Afdhal NH. Liver cirrhosis. Lancet. 2008;371:838-851.

    Garcia-Tsao G, Lim JK; Members of Veterans Affairs Hepatitis C Resource Center Program. Management and treatment of patients with cirrhosis and portal hypertension: recommendations from the Department of Veterans Affairs Hepatitis C Resource Center Program and the National Hepatitis C Program. Am J Gastroenterol. 2009;104:1802-1829.

    Garcia-Tsao G. Cirrhosis and its sequelae. In: Goldman L, Ausiello D, eds. Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 156.


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      Tests for Alcoholic liver disease

      Review Date: 11/16/2012

      Reviewed By: George F. Longstreth, MD, Department of Gastroenterology, Kaiser Permanente Medical Care Program, San Diego, California. Also reviewed by A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc., Editorial Team: David Zieve, MD, MHA, David R. Eltz, Stephanie Slon, and Nissi Wang.

      The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.

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