What is Alcohol-related Liver Disease (ALD)?

ALD is caused by excessive consumption of alcohol. Over many years this can result in serious and permanent damage to your liver. Each time your liver filters alcohol, some of the liver cells die. The liver can develop new cells (known as regeneration), but prolonged alcohol misuse over many years can reduce its ability to regenerate. This can result in serious and permanent damage to the liver.

ALD develops in three main stages:

  1. Alcoholic fatty liver disease (steatosis): excessive alcohol consumption causes fat to build up in the liver. It often goes unnoticed because it does not tend to cause any symptoms. It is very common amongst people who drink heavily but it will normally go away if you stop drinking alcohol.
  2. Alcoholic hepatitis: the liver cells become inflamed. Inflammation is the body's natural means of protecting itself from harm. Ongoing inflammation causes scar tissue to build up. When the scar tissue builds up faster than it can be broken down and removed this is known as fibrosis. Even if significant levels of fibrosis are present the liver is generally still able to function normally. If you stop drinking alcohol there is a good chance that the liver will recover from this damage over time.
  3. Cirrhosis: If a person continues to consume too much alcohol the inflammation and fibrosis will continue to spread. Over time, usually many years, this can lead to cirrhosis which is where the amount of fibrosis has become so extensive that it will prevent the liver from being able to function normally.

What is the treatment for ALD?

If you have been diagnosed with alcohol-related hepatitis or cirrhosis the only way to prevent further liver damage is to give up drinking alcohol completely. Depending on the extent of the existing damage the liver may begin to repair itself once alcohol consumption is stopped.

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