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You are here : 3-RX.com > Medical Encyclopedia > Diseases and Conditions > Alcoholic Liver Disease
      Category : Health Centers > Alcoholism

Alcoholic Liver Disease

Alternate Names : Alcoholic Fatty Liver, Alcoholic Hepatitis, Alcoholic Cirrhosis

Overview, Causes, & Risk Factors | Symptoms & Signs | Diagnosis & Tests | Prevention & Expectations | Treatment & Monitoring

Habitual drinking of alcohol can damage the liver. There are 3 types of damage: alcoholic fatty liver, alcoholic hepatitis, and alcoholic cirrhosis. The amount of damage depends on the amount of alcohol used and how long the drinking continues. The type of alcohol is not important.

What is going on in the body?

Alcoholic fatty liver is found in most heavy drinkers. It is the most common liver problem in people with alcohol dependence. The liver is enlarged, firm, and yellowish. The liver cells are swollen with fat. This fat comes from the diet and the body's fat cells. Alcoholic fatty liver is reversible if a person stops drinking alcohol.

Alcoholic hepatitis is inflammation of the liver from alcohol, which can be severe. The liver is enlarged, firm, and yellowish. There is also death of liver cells. Alcoholic hepatitis is the middle step between fatty liver and alcoholic cirrhosis.

Alcoholic cirrhosis is an end-stage disease. If drinking is not stopped, more liver cells die. Scarring occurs throughout the liver. With continued scarring, the liver shrinks, becomes firm, and is no longer able to function. Cirrhosis is permanent, even if a person stops drinking.

What are the causes and risks of the disease?

The longer the drinking goes on and the larger the amounts of alcohol used, the greater the risk of developing hepatitis and cirrhosis. About 10% to 15% of alcoholics develop cirrhosis. Alcoholic women are at risk for developing liver disease from lesser amounts of alcohol than men. Additional risk factors include:

  • poor nutrition
  • past liver damage from infections
  • possibly, a genetic risk factor


    Next section


    Alcoholic Liver Disease: Symptoms & Signs

    Author: Susan Woods, MD
    Reviewer: Eileen McLaughlin, RN, BSN
    Date Reviewed: 07/13/01

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