Alcohol and Your Liver
April is Alcohol Awareness Month, making it a good time to teach about the damaging health effects of alcohol abuse. Here at Health Edco, we create a variety of innovative alcohol education resources and models that explain the consequences of abusing alcohol, from the dangers of drunken driving to the unintended results of mixing alcohol with sexual activity.
Among our popular alcohol education materials are products that highlight how alcohol can damage the liver. Liver damage is just one of the many potential health effects of abusing alcohol, but, in severe cases, the consequences of alcoholic liver damage can be fatal.
Most people think of alcohol-related liver disease as the result of many years of alcohol abuse. However, a recent study reveals a sharp increase in deaths in the United States from alcohol-related liver disease among young adults ages 25 to 34. The good news is that liver disease can often be reversed by avoiding alcohol use. And raising awareness about the damaging health effects of alcohol abuse can help deter dangerous levels of alcohol consumption.
What Does the Liver Do?
The liver is one of the largest organs in the human body, and it’s also amazingly resilient: The liver is actually capable of regenerating itself. The liver performs hundreds of important functions in the body, including regulating levels of cholesterol and blood sugar, storing iron, assisting in the fight against infection, and aiding digestion. The liver also turns toxic substances into harmless ones and helps facilitate their removal from the body.
The liver is the primary site in the body where alcohol is metabolized. Cells in the liver die when they filter alcohol. Over time, abusing alcohol can hinder the liver’s ability to regenerate, resulting in liver damage that can be permanent and even fatal. Symptoms of liver damage often don’t appear until damage has progressed.
a healthy, hepatic, and cirrhotic liver.
Alcohol-Related Liver Disease
Alcohol-related liver disease is sometimes considered to progress among different types, from alcoholic fatty liver disease to alcoholic hepatitis to cirrhosis. However, the different types of alcohol-related liver disease may overlap and progress suddenly.
Our Pickled Liver Model depicts the
similarities between a cirrhotic liver and a pickle.
- Alcoholic Fatty Liver
Drinking too much alcohol, even over just a few days, can cause fat to build up in the liver. Alcoholic fatty liver disease often has no symptoms, but it can cause pain in the upper right of the belly if the liver becomes enlarged. Alcoholic fatty liver disease is reversible and typically improves by avoiding alcohol.
- Alcoholic Hepatitis
Alcoholic hepatitis, unlike infectious hepatitis, is inflammation of the liver caused by alcohol consumption. Scar tissue may begin to replace healthy liver tissue. Typically, alcoholic hepatitis develops in people who have been heavy drinkers for many years, but it can also develop in moderate drinkers. Alcoholic hepatitis may not have any noticeable symptoms. When symptoms are apparent, they include jaundice (yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes), abdominal pain, low-grade fever, and nausea.
The liver damage from less severe cases of alcoholic hepatitis may be reversible by avoiding alcohol use. However, alcoholic hepatitis can lead to serious and potentially life-threatening complications, including cirrhosis.
similarities between a cirrhotic liver and a pickle.
- Alcoholic Cirrhosis
Cirrhosis is advanced liver disease characterized by significant scarring of the liver, which affects the liver’s ability to function. Alcoholic cirrhosis is the result of chronic alcoholism. Despite the scarring of the liver, cirrhosis may not have any noticeable symptoms until liver damage is severe. When symptoms do develop, they include jaundice as well as other symptoms associated with severe hepatitis.
Liver damage resulting from alcoholic cirrhosis generally is not reversible. If alcoholic cirrhosis is caught early enough and treated, and if the patient avoids all alcohol use, the condition may stabilize. Cirrhosis can lead to life-threatening complications, however, including fluid retention and swelling in the legs and abdomen, toxin buildup in the brain that can lead to coma, heavy bleeding in the esophagus and upper stomach, liver cancer, and liver and kidney failure.
to depict liver disease and other effects of alcohol abuse.
Preventing Alcohol-Related Liver Disease
Although alcohol abuse is only one cause of liver disease, avoiding alcohol prevents the development of alcohol-related liver disease. Adults who choose to drink alcohol should do so in moderation, which, according to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, means consuming no more than up to one standard drink per day for women and two standard drinks per day for men.
to provide examples of a standard drink.
Other tips for preventing alcohol-related liver disease include not drinking alcohol while taking medications that may cause liver complications when combined with alcohol use. Taking steps to reduce the risk of hepatitis and getting tested and treated for hepatitis can also help protect your liver. People who have hepatitis C and drink alcohol are at increased risk of developing cirrhosis.
If you have a problem with alcohol or questions about how alcohol may be impacting your health, talk to your healthcare professional.
To learn more about our engaging alcohol education resources and teaching tools, please visit our Alcohol Education Products Section.
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