Alcohol-Associated Liver Disease

Alcohol-associated liver disease describes three different conditions that can affect the livers of individuals who engage in years of heavy alcohol consumption. These conditions are:

  • Fatty liver – This condition is usually reversible if the patient abstains from alcohol use.
  • Alcoholic hepatitis – This is a type of alcohol-induced liver injury that, in severe cases, can lead to liver failure.
  • Liver cirrhosis – Cirrhosis of the liver occurs when healthy liver tissue becomes inflamed and is replaced by scarring, causing irreversible damage.

Causes of Alcohol-Associated Liver Disease

Heavy alcohol consumption is the sole cause of alcohol-associated liver, though there are two ways drinking can lead to this condition:

  • Binge drinking – Drinking a large amount of alcohol in a short amount of time can lead to fatty liver disease and, on occasion, alcoholic hepatitis.
  • Prolonged alcohol consumption – Drinking heavily for many years can lead to alcoholic hepatitis and cirrhosis, the more serious forms of alcohol-associated liver disease.

Symptoms of Alcohol-Associated Liver Disease

One of the unfortunate hallmarks of alcohol-associated liver disease is that symptoms often don’t appear until severe damage has been done. However, some early symptoms can include:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Loss of appetite
  • Fatigue
  • Diarrhea
  • A general feeling of sickness

If the liver has suffered long-term, alcohol-related damage, symptoms can include:

  • Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes)
  • Swelling in the legs, ankles and feet
  • Abdominal swelling
  • Itchy skin
  • Significant weight loss
  • Muscle wasting
  • Fever
  • Memory problems

Diagnosing Alcohol-Associated Liver Disease

Alcohol-associated liver disease may be suspected in patients who are exhibiting symptoms and have a history of alcohol abuse. Blood tests can help determine liver function, and additional tests may be needed if alcoholic hepatitis or cirrhosis are suspected. These tests can include:

  • Imaging scans to look for scarring
  • A liver biopsy to determine the cause and degree of the scarring
  • An endoscopy to look for signs of cirrhosis

Treatments for Alcohol-Associated Liver Disease

The first step in treating alcohol-associated liver disease is for the patient to make important lifestyle changes by stopping alcohol consumption, eating a healthy diet, taking supplements and getting vaccinated for a variety of diseases.

Other treatments can include:

  • The use of medications to help with fluid buildup, excess bleeding, mental confusion and infections
  • Endoscopic treatments for enlarged veins in the esophagus
  • Removal of fluid from the abdomen

The liver disease, hepatology and transplant experts at Tampa General Hospital work closely together to create individual treatment plans for patients. If alcohol-associated liver disease leads to end-stage liver disease, a liver transplant may be needed.