About Liver Disease & Disease of the Liver
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Your liver is the largest organ inside your body. It is also one of the most important. The liver has many jobs, including changing food into energy and cleaning alcohol and poisons from the blood. Your liver also makes bile, a yellowish-green liquid that helps with digestion.
There are many kinds of liver diseases. Viruses cause some of them, like hepatitis A, hepatitis B and hepatitis C. Others can be the result of drugs, poisons or drinking too much alcohol. If the liver forms scar tissue because of an illness, it's called cirrhosis or fibrosis of the liver. Jaundice, or yellowing of the skin, can be a sign of liver disease.
Like other parts of your body, cancer can also impact the liver. You could also inherit a disease-of-the-liver such as hemochromatosis, for example.
Also called: Hepatic Fibrosis
Fibrosis and Cirrhosis is scarring of the liver. Scar tissue forms because of injury or long-term disease. Scar tissue cannot do what healthy liver tissue does - make protein, help fight infections, clean the blood, help digest food and store energy. Cirrhosis can lead to
- Easy bruising or bleeding, or nosebleeds
- Swelling of the abdomen or legs
- Extra sensitivity to medicines
- High blood pressure in the vein entering the liver
- Enlarged veins in the esophagus and stomach
- Kidney failure
About 5% of people with cirrhosis get liver cancer.
Cirrhosis has many causes. In the USA, the most common cause of liver failure is chronic alcoholism and hepatitis. Nothing will make the scar tissue disappear, but treating the cause can keep it from getting worse. If too much scar tissue forms, you may need to consider a liver transplant.
How does Alcohol affect Cirrhosis?
Alcohol increases the damage done to the liver and speeds up the development of cirrhosis. Light drinkers or non-drinkers with hepatitis C (on average) have only moderate liver scarring, even up to 40-years after infection. Heavy drinkers are those who drink 5 or more drinks per day and develop scar tissue in their liver much more quickly. After about 25-years of hepatitis C infection, heavy drinkers show more than twice the scarring of light drinkers or non-drinkers. After 40-years of infection and heavy drinking, most heavy drinkers have developed cirrhosis.
What are the chances of getting Cirrhosis?
The chances of a person getting cirrhosis are increased by the combination of hepatitis C and alcohol. A heavy drinker with hepatitis C has 16-times the risk of cirrhosis that a non-drinker with hepatitis C has.
Alcohol and Hepatitis C
Alcohol Use and Viral Load
The phrase "viral load" refers to the amount of a virus in the bloodstream. In this case, the virus is hepatitis C.
What does Alcohol do to your Viral Load?
The more drinks a person has per week, the more virus he or she will tend to have. Why?
- Heavy alcohol use weakens the immune system, so the more you drink, the fewer resources you have to fight the hepatitis C virus.
- Alcohol is processed and broken down in the liver, so the harder the liver has to work to process alcohol, the more freedom the virus has to do damage.
Alcohol Use and Response to Treatment
Will drinking alcohol change my response to treatment?
People who drink do not do as well on antiviral treatment as non-drinkers. A period of not drinking prior to treatment greatly increases the odds of treatment being effective.
- People who do not drink prior to starting antiviral treatment tend to have better response rates than people who do drink.
- In one study, researchers found that people who drank infrequently or not at all responded to antiviral treatment 3 times more often than heavy drinkers. Of 20-people who drank heavily prior to treatment, only 2 people cleared the virus. Drinkers may be more likely to have trouble sticking with antiviral treatment as prescribed.
What You Can Do
At present, no one knows if there is a safe level of alcohol for people with hepatitis C. The best advice is to not drink alcohol at all. This may be the hardest thing for you to do. If you drink more than 2 drinks in a day, or regularly drink 6 or 7-days a week, it's important to take steps to reduce how much you drink, until you can give up alcohol altogether.
There are resources to help you stop.
One way to make any kind of change in your behavior is to come up with a "Change Plan." This exercise has you list the specific goals you would like to achieve, outline the steps and challenges you will meet in reaching those goals, and figure out ways to overcome those challenges.
Alcohol Drinking Diary
To keep track of how much you drink, use a drinking diary. Every day record the number of drinks you have. At the end of the month, add up the total number of drinks you had during the week.
The National Institutes of Health offers the following tips to help people cut back on drinking:
Watch it at Home
Keep only a small amount or no alcohol at home. Don't keep temptations around.
When you drink, sip your drink slowly. Take a break of 1 hour between drinks. Drink soda, water, or juice after a drink with alcohol. Do not drink on an empty stomach! Eat food when you are drinking.
Take a Break from Alcohol
Pick a day or two each week when you will not drink at all. Then, try to stop drinking for 1-week. Think about how you feel physically and emotionally on these days. When you succeed and feel better, you may find it easier to cut down for good.
Learn how to say NO
You do not have to drink when other people drink. You do not have to take a drink that is given to you. Practice ways to say no politely. For example, you can tell people you feel better when you drink less. Stay away from people who give you a hard time about not drinking.
What would you like to do instead of drinking? Use the time and money spent on drinking to do something fun with your family or friends. Go out to eat, see a movie, or play sports or a game.
Cutting down on your drinking may be difficult at times. Ask your family and friends for support to help you reach your goal. Talk to your doctor if you are having trouble cutting down. Get the help you need to reach your goal.
Watch out for Temptations
Watch out for people, places, or times that make you drink, even if you do not want to. Stay away from people who drink a lot and avoid bars where you used to go. Plan ahead of time what you will do to avoid drinking when you are tempted.
Do not drink alcohol when you are angry or upset or have a bad day. These are habits you need to break if you want to drink less alcohol.
Do not Give up!
Most people do not cut down or give up drinking all at once. Just like going on a diet, it is not easy to change. That's OK, since if you don't reach your goal at first, try again. Remember, get support from people who care about you and want to help. Do not give up!
Remember, the best advice is to completely avoid alcohol consumption!