Liver disease: NHS Doctor talks about link with alcohol
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There are several different types of liver disease, all of which are caused by different things. For example non-alcoholic fatty liver disease can be caused by being overweight, hepatitis due to a viral infection and alcohol-related liver disease by reguarly drinking too much alcohol. Other possible causes of liver disease include genetics and a problem with the immune system. The British Liver Trust explains that since 1970, deaths due to liver disease have increased by a whopping 400 percent, with 40 people everyday losing their life to liver disease in the UK.
However, 90 percent of liver diseases are preventable, and through lifestyle changes, individuals can help to reduce symptoms.
One individual who has shared their story with The British Liver Trust is Mike, whose journey began back in August 2020 when he was made redundant.
Due to the pressures of COVID-19 and and trying to find a new job, Mike started to rely on alcohol, drinking way outside of NHS guidelines that recommend no more than 14 units a week.
But soon his health started to dwindle, and mysterious symptoms started to appear. Initially ignoring both physical and mental changes, Mike’s health ordeal turned out to be worse than he ever could have imagined.
“I continued to put on weight – my legs swelled to quite a size and my belly was growing,” Mike wrote for The Trust.
“In the January I had noticed some isolated leg swelling in one calf and went to A&E who checked for deep vein thrombosis (DVT).
“There was no mention of any potential liver problem. I had no DVT and the hospital discharged me saying there was nothing of concern and to contact my GP if things got any worse.”
The NHS explains that when drinking a large amount of alcohol, it can lead to a dangerous build-up of fats in the liver. This is called alcoholic fatty liver disease, and is the first stage of alcohol-related liver disease (ARLD).
“The other quite disturbing thing I noticed, not long after the leg swelled, was an alarming loss of night vision and it was sudden. I walked into the home bar one night and under low light I could hardly see,” he added.
Although friends and family were commenting on Mike’s physical changes, he struggled to face up to the fact that his dwindling health was due to alcohol, and he needed to give it up. But after urging him to seek medical advice, Mike finally went to his GP.
“This is liver failure, you need to be admitted to hospital straight away,” the GP told Mike. After arriving at A&E and a couple of tests later a doctor gave Mike a shocking diagnosis.
“I’ll never forget his words, ‘your liver is absolutely knackered and it can’t recover’. He told me some of my results which were way outside normal ranges. He said a cirrhosis diagnosis would be confirmed following an ultrasound but it was inevitable.
“I asked if I could recover. He said it was possible that I could die in the hospital. It would depend on infection of the ascitic fluid. He said I was very seriously ill.”
The NHS explains that ARLD develops in three main stages, although there is often an overlap between each stage. The first stage, known as alcoholic fatty liver disease can develop even after just a few days of drinking, and usually with few symptoms.
The second stage, knwon as alcoholic hepatitis is a serious condition and may be the first time a person is aware they are damaging their liver through alcohol.
Symptoms of ALRD at this stage can include the following:
- Feeling sick
- Weight loss
- Loss of appetite
- Yellowing of the eyes and skin (jaundice)
- Swelling in the ankles and tummy
- Confusion or drowsiness
- Vomiting blood or passing blood in your stools.
The third stage of ARLD is known as cirrhosis, where the liver has become significantly scarred and is generally not reversible. The NHS states that a person who has alcohol-related cirrhosis and does not stop drinking has a less than 50 percent chance of living for at least five more years.
Although no cure, treatment can help to manage symptoms and slow the progression of the condition. Treatment can include using medication and anti-viral drugs, stopping drinking and in some cases a liver transplant.
Over time Mike’s health has been up and down, and following another trip to hospital he has been diagnosed with end-stage liver disease – when the liver is damaged beyond repair due to chronic liver disease or acute liver failure.
Giving advice to others whilst reflecting on his own experience, Mike added: “Life is difficult because I am so fatigued. My career appears to be over. Finished at 50. All of this because I liked to drink. You do not need to be an alcoholic. Think.”
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