Liver Damage: Protecting the Body’s Unsung Hero
The liver may indeed be the unsung hero of all the human organs. It may not be the first organ you think of when you’re asked about the importance of all of our vital organs.
It doesn’t have the visible quality or beauty of the eyes or the admirable powerhouse qualities of the brain. It doesn’t even have the romantic context of the heart. But the duties of the liver, while they may be intangible, are numerous and completely essential.
The liver is located in the upper right portion of the stomach and, since it doesn’t expand or contract, can be easy to forget about. But its importance remains. Its main essential duties include purifying the blood, fighting infections, storing energy, and digesting food. The liver rarely starts to show signs of pain or discomfort unless there are serious underlying issues present. While there are many different types of non-alcohol-related liver conditions, this blog will be discussing the risks, warning signs, and what to do when you’re suffering from alcohol liver damage.
Damage Can Happen Quickly
As a 21-year-old college student, Gabe thought he was invincible. It’s homecoming week, and between the fraternity houses down the road and the house parties on every corner, there was a surplus of drinking activities to take part in.
It became a marathon cycle of drinking and alcohol recovery for days on end. His friends and him even jokingly compared how many nights in a row they’ve drunk alcohol to excess. After day 7 of this cycle, Gabe starts to feel “off.” It’s almost as if his body is trying to tell him something terrible is happening.
He hasn’t been able to get restful sleep, his face is breaking out, and it’s only taking a couple of beers for him to feel intensely drunk. It became dire enough for Gabe to seek medical attention.
Heavy drinking can cause fatty acids to collect in the liver, in some cases in less than a week. Luckily Gabe realized something was wrong early enough to where if he stops drinking and takes care of his liver, the damage will heal itself.
Telltale Signs of Early Liver Damage:
Alcohol is processed through the liver. Because of this, the abuse of alcohol can cause irreversible damage to the healthy tissues of the liver. Because of the liver’s silent importance in the body’s natural systems, unhealthy liver function can show itself in a host of different ways. Here are some of the signs and symptoms of early liver damage to look for:
- Irregular or difficult sleep
- Fatigue or low energy levels
- Skin and eyes developing a yellowish complexion (jaundice)
- Skin conditions appear such as eczema, psoriasis, acne, and itching
- Becoming quickly inebriated when you drink alcohol in very small amounts
- Caffeine has a more severe effect
- Flushing or redness of the skin
- Severe side effects and reactions to common medications
- Memory loss or mental haziness
As stated above, there are many different types of liver disease. That being said, they all typically progress in the same manner.
A healthy liver will help fight infections and filter toxins out of the blood. It also helps store energy when your body really needs it. A healthy liver has the superhero-like ability to regenerate or heal itself when it’s damaged. Anything that prevents your liver from doing its duties, or prevents it from regenerating, can be a threat to your life.
In the early stages of any liver disease, the liver cells will become inflamed. Inflammation in any body part is a sign that your body is trying to fight an infection or heal an injury. At this stage, it is entirely possible to notice that something is wrong because you may feel your liver become tender or enlarged. That being said, often during this stage, a person may feel no discomfort at all. At this point, no permanent scar tissue has developed and the liver may heal completely with proper treatment.
In the fibrosis stage, liver health needs to be taken very seriously as the damage may become permanent. Fibrosis refers to the fibrous nature of liver scar tissue. Scar tissue cannot do the work that healthy tissue can, and it can even keep blood from flowing through the liver. As more scar tissue builds, the liver will start to work less effectively and the healthy tissue may have to work harder. If liver disease is diagnosed and treated during this stage, there is still a small chance that the liver can heal itself with time.
Cirrhosis Related Issues:
Cirrhosis of the liver occurs when tough scar tissue replaces soft, healthy liver tissue. As this stage progresses, the liver will have less and less healthy tissue and this ultimately leads to complete liver failure. At this stage, much of the damage done to the liver is irreversible and the focus becomes protecting what little healthy liver tissue you have left. In this stage, symptoms become more severe and may include:
- Bleeding or bruising easily
- Water build-up in legs or abdomen
- Further yellowing of skin and eyes (jaundice)
- Development of insulin resistance, leading to type-II diabetes
- Toxins may build up in your brain, causing problems with concentration, memory loss, sleeping, or other mental functions.
If liver damage progresses even further, it can lead to liver cancer and even liver failure.
How Can I Prevent or Reverse Liver Disease?
We’ve established that heavy drinking can increase the risk of issues with the liver. Adults should only consume alcohol at the rate of one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men.
According to the American Liver Foundation, between 10% and 20% of heavy drinkers will develop liver cirrhosis from repeated and excessive alcohol use. Problems with alcohol consumption are a huge contributing factor to widespread liver damage, but recovering from alcohol damage to the liver is entirely possible if addressed in time.
Early detection of possible liver damage is key in the potential reversing and healing of liver damage. Be aware of the symptoms and follow recommended guidelines when it comes to alcohol consumption.
The American Liver Foundation has produced a guide on what to eat and what to avoid in order to heal or maintain healthy liver function:
- What to avoid: Avoid foods high in fat, sugar, and salt. Fried and “fast food” items should be avoided as well. Raw or undercooked shellfish such as oysters and clams should be avoided as well.
- Eat a balanced diet: Select foods from all food groups: grains, fruits, vegetables, meat and beans, milk, and oil.
- Eat food with fiber: Fiber helps your liver work at an optimal level. Fruits, vegetables, whole-grain bread, rice, and cereals can take care of your body’s fiber needs.
- Drink lots of water: It prevents dehydration and helps your liver to function properly.
If you fear you or a loved one are developing alcoholic tendencies or if you are seeking treatment for alcohol abuse, Serenity Lane in Oregon is here to help.
Liver Disease FAQs:
How can you tell if you have liver damage from alcohol?
Because of the liver’s silent importance in the body’s natural systems, unhealthy liver function can show itself in a host of different ways. Here are some of the signs and symptoms of early liver damage to look for: Irregular or difficult sleep, fatigue, yellowing of skin or eyes (jaundice), skin conditions such as eczema and acne, inebriation after minimal alcohol intake, increased sensitivity to caffeine, flushing or skin redness, severe side effects to common medications, memory loss or mental haziness.
Can the liver repair itself after years of drinking?
While healthy liver tissue can regenerate itself over time, years of heavy alcohol use can cause scarring in the liver known as cirrhosis. Liver scar tissue does not have the ability to regenerate itself like healthy tissue can so treatment becomes taking care of what healthy tissue remains. Because of this, early recognition of liver damage is key to making a full recovery.
How long do you have to drink before liver damage?
While years of heavy alcohol abuse will almost always cause liver scarring, fat build-up can impair liver function after a short period of heavy drinking. Sometimes this build-up can occur in as little as a week.
Serenity Lane has been a trusted provider of addiction treatment services since 1973. Our care services combine 46 years of experience with a medically-informed, multidisciplinary care plan. We treat the whole patient and will create a care plan matched to your individual needs.
Call us at 800-543-9905 to speak with an assessment counselor today.