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Alcohol-related liver disease (ARLD) is caused by damage to the liver from years of excessive drinking. Years of alcohol abuse can cause the liver to become inflamed and swollen. This damage can also cause scarring known as cirrhosis. Cirrhosis is the final stage of liver disease.
ARLD is a major public health problem. About 8 to 10 percent of Americans drink heavily. Of those, 10 to 15 percent will go on to develop ARLD. Heavy drinking is classified as more than eight alcoholic beverages per week for women and more than 15 for men.
Liver disease is just one of the consequences of excessive alcohol consumption. This is especially serious because liver failure can be fatal. Learn how you can prevent and treat this serious condition.
The symptoms of ARLD depend on the stage of the disease. There are three stages:
Some people with ARLD don’t have symptoms until the disease is advanced. Others start showing signs earlier. Symptoms of ARLD include:
Symptoms of ARLD may show up more often after binge drinking.
Your risk of ARLD increases if:
Binge drinking may also cause acute alcoholic hepatitis. This can be life-threatening. Acute alcoholic hepatitis can develop after as few as four drinks for women and five drinks for men.
ARLD is not the only disease that can cause liver damage. Your doctor will want to test the health of your liver to rule out other diseases. Your doctor may order:
Liver enzyme tests are also included in the liver function test. These tests determine the levels of three liver enzymes:
You’re likely to have ARLD if your AST level is two times higher than your ALT level. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, this finding is present in over 80 percent of ARLD patients.
ARLD treatment has two goals. The first is to help you stop drinking. This can prevent further liver damage and encourage healing. The second is to improve your liver health.
If you have ARLD, your doctor may recommend:
It’s important to note that taking vitamin A and alcohol together can be deadly. Only people who have stopped drinking can take these supplements. Supplements will not cure liver disease, but they can prevent complications like malnutrition.
Complications of ARLD may include:
ARLD can shorten your lifespan. However, stopping drinking can help. You can also recover from malnutrition by changing your diet and taking appropriate supplements (if needed). It’s not too late to change lifestyle habits if you or a loved one drinks excessively.
Talk to your doctor if you think you have a problem with drinking or are at risk for developing liver disease. They can refer you to programs to help you stop drinking and improve the health of your liver.
Written by: April Khan and Kristeen Cherney
Medically reviewed on: Apr 18, 2017: Justin Choi, MD
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