The liver is an organ that converts food into energy, absorbs vitamins from food, removes toxins from the blood, and makes proteins. Alcoholic liver disease happens when the liver becomes damaged due to alcohol consumption and it stops working properly.

What are the causes?

This condition is caused by drinking too much alcohol over a number of years.

What increases the risk?

This condition is more likely to develop in:

  • People who have a family history of the disease.
  • People who have poor nutrition.
  • People who are obese.

What are the signs or symptoms?

Early symptoms of this condition include:

  • Abdominal discomfort on the upper right side. Symptoms of moderate disease include:
  • Yellow, pale, or darkening skin.
  • Abdominal pain.
  • Nausea and vomiting.
  • Weight loss.
  • Loss of appetite.

Symptoms of advanced disease include:

  • Abdominal swelling.
  • Nosebleeds or bleeding gums.
  • Itchy skin.
  • Enlarged fingertips (clubbing).
  • Light-colored stools that smell very bad (steatorrhea).
  • Mood changes.
  • Feeling agitated.
  • Trouble concentrating.

Some people do not have symptoms until the condition becomes severe. Symptoms are often worse after heavy drinking.

How is this diagnosed?

This condition is diagnosed with:

  • A physical exam.
  • Blood tests.
  • Taking a sample of liver tissue to examine under a microscope (liver biopsy). You may also have other tests, including:
  • X-rays.

How is this treated?

Treatment may include:

  • Stopping alcohol use to allow the liver to heal.
  • Joining a support group or meeting with a counselor.
  • Medicines to reduce inflammation. These may be recommended if the disease is severe.
  • A liver transplant. This is the only treatment if the disease is very severe.
  • Nutritional therapy. This may involve:
  • Taking vitamins.
  • Eating foods that are high in thiamine, such as whole-wheat cereals, pork, and raw vegetables.
  • Eating foods that have a lot of folic acid, such as vegetables, fruits, meats, beans, nuts, and dairy foods.
  • Eating a diet that includes carbohydrate-rich foods, such as yogurt, beans, potatoes, and rice.

Follow these instructions at home:

  • Do not drink alcohol.
  • Take medicines only as directed by your health care provider.
  • Take vitamins only as directed by your health care provider.
  • Follow any diet instructions that are given to you by your health care provider.

Contact a health care provider if:

  • You have a fever.
  • You have shortness of breath or have difficulty breathing.
  • You have bright red blood in your stool, or you have black, tarry stools.
  • You are vomiting blood.
  • Your skin color becomes more yellow, pale, or dark.
  • You develop headaches.
  • You have trouble thinking.
  • You have problems balancing or walking.