More than 15 million people in United States abuse alcohol. Chronic abusers of alcohol have a risk of developing cirrhosis, a life-threatening condition in which the liver fails to properly function. The symptoms of cirrhosis are caused by a buildup of scar tissue in the damaged liver. As the liver receives injuries, it attempts to heal itself, but the large number of scars hinders its ability to function. The liver is responsible for many functions in the human body such as the production of bile, an essential fluid that helps absorb dietary fats, cholesterol and vitamins and blood purification. With advanced cirrhosis, liver function can halt completely, resulting in multiple organ failure and death.
People who suffer from alcohol dependence should remain constantly vigilant for signs and symptoms of cirrhosis. When dealing with something as all-consuming as addiction, it can be difficult to notice new physical symptoms. Cirrhosis is not curable, but early treatment can be essential in reducing the symptoms and risk of death. Less damaging liver disorders that often precede cirrhosis, such as a fatty liver, can be reversed.
Symptoms of cirrhosis include but are not limited to:
Spider-like blood vessels under the skin
Loss of appetite
Weight loss or weight gain
Easily bruising or bleeding
Yellowing of the skin or the whites of eyes
Light colored or bloody stool
Swelling in the legs
It is important to understand that early stages of cirrhosis may have no symptoms at all. For this reason, people suffering from alcohol addiction should make sure to receive regular blood tests from their doctors. Liver damage can be observed in most routine blood tests. Even without outward symptoms, excess levels of bilirubin or other enzymes can indicate liver damage. Cirrhosis can also be diagnosed with CT scans, ultrasounds or with a specialized procedure called a radioisotope scan. The physical structure of the liver can be inspected through a laparoscope, a viewing device that is inserted into a small incision in the abdomen. Disease severity can be determined with a liver biopsy.
The first step for treating cirrhosis may be frightening for someone dealing with alcohol addiction: they must stop drinking. Leaving cirrhosis untreated can cause a number of dangerous complications. Variceal bleeding occurs when the excess of scar tissue in the liver blocks blood flow, leading to severe internal hemorrhaging. Cirrhosis can also cause profound mental or behavioral changes, a condition called hepatic encephalopathy. Because the liver is no longer able to purify the blood, toxins flood the central nervous system, leading to confusion, slowed thinking or even coma.
Along with abstinence from alcohol, people with cirrhosis may be required to reduce levels of salt in their diet and take diuretics to prevent fluid buildup. Infections are another potential complication of cirrhosis meaning the patient may be prescribed antibiotics. Maintaining an overall healthy diet will prevent the malnutrition that accompanies liver dysfunction. The most important thing a person with cirrhosis should do, however, is stop drinking — even the healthiest diet and medication cocktail in the world means nothing if they do not take that first step.
No matter a patient’s reason for entering the recovery program, Sovereign Health Group strives to provide first class care and individualized treatment. It is for this reason that Sovereign Health is at the forefront of addiction care and dual-diagnosis treatment. For further questions, please contact 866-544-5504.
Written by Courtney Lopresti, Sovereign Group Writer