Drinking above the UK’s weekly low-risk drinking guidelines of 14 units per week can lead to a build up of fat in the liver. The liver, which is responsible for more than 500 different bodily functions, does have the capability to heal itself. However, the healing capability of the liver can only begin when a person abstains from alcohol.
Experts at Alcohol Change UK caution that the presence of a fatty liver “is an indicator that more permanent damage may occur in the future”.
The NHS points out “early symptoms” of alcohol-related liver disease, which are “often quite vague”.
It’s possible there is damage to your liver if you experience “abdominal pain”.
People who have alcohol-induced liver damage could also suffer from fatigue, a feeling of nausea, and diarrhoea.
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The condition can make a person feel “generally unwell” and the person may lose their appetite.
These symptoms tend to be attributed to an advancement of alcohol-related liver disease, known as alcoholic hepatitis.
“About a third of people with fatty liver will develop alcoholic hepatitis,” Alcohol Change UK points out.
Watch out for vomiting and yellowing of the skin (jaundice), which can be a warning that liver failure could occur.
In the UK, around 7,700 people die each year due to alcohol-related liver disease.
Continuous liver damage will result in the organ being unable to heal itself; instead, scar tissue develops.
“There is no cure for cirrhosis, but sufferers who stop drinking completely have a much stronger chance of survival,” the charity adds.
Signs of advanced alcohol-related liver disease includes:
- Yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes (jaundice)
- Swelling in the legs, ankles and feet, due to a build-up of fluid (oedema)
- Swelling in your abdomen, due to a build-up of fluid known as ascites
- A high temperature (fever) and shivering attacks
- Very itchy skin
- Hair loss
- Unusually curved fingertips and nails (clubbed fingers)
- Blotchy red palms
- Significant weight loss
- Weakness and muscle wasting
- Confusion and memory problems, trouble sleeping (insomnia) and changes in your personality due to a build-up of toxins in the brain
- Vomiting blood and black, tarry stools due to internal bleeding
- A tendency to bleed and bruise more easily, such as frequent nosebleeds and bleeding gums
- Increased sensitivity to alcohol and drugs (because the liver can’t process them).
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Are you drinking too much?
The NHS advises answering the following questions, honestly, to yourself:
- Have you ever thought you should cut down on your drinking?
- Have people annoyed you by criticising your drinking?
- Have you ever felt guilty about your drinking?
- 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?
“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,” the NHS notes.
People who are experiencing symptoms of alcohol-related liver disease are also advised to book an appointment with their GP.
Drinkline is the free national alcohol helpline, which is available on: 0300 123 1110.
The helpline, which is open for people who are concerned about their own drinking or somebody else’s drinking, is contactable on weekdays from 9am to 8pm; weekends from 11am to 4pm.
Additional support services include Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), Al-Anon Family Groups, We Are With You, Adfam, and SMART Recovery.
Regularly drinking alcohol is linked to cancer, heart disease, brain damage, and liver disease.