The holiday season is in full swing, and there are a number of reasons why so many call this the most wonderful time of the year. From holiday parties, secret Santas, gift exchanges, and spending time with family and other loved ones, it truly is a time that most people look forward to every year. There is an area of concern, though, regarding the holiday spirit, or should we say, spirits of the season. The holiday season is a time when alcohol purchases and consumption increase significantly. While many can drink in moderation, others have a hard time controlling what has become out of control and to the point of addiction. When it comes to diseases related to alcohol, people often have a picture in their minds of an older, sick alcoholic who’s been wasting away for years. However, the fact is, no one is immune to alcoholism, and a recent spike in cases of alcohol-related cirrhosis of the liver in those between the ages of 25 to 34 is deeply concerning.
The liver is an important organ serving many purposes when it comes to the digestive tract. The liver filters blood as it comes from the digestive tract before making its way to the rest of the body. It helps process chemicals from food and other sources while also helping to metabolize drugs. It secretes bile during these processes that support the intestines. Lastly, it creates proteins that help with blood clotting.
Cirrhosis occurs when something causes damage to the tissue in the liver, which ultimately leads to scarring. This scarring is permanent damage that keeps that part of the liver from supporting the body as it should. While cirrhosis of the liver can be caused by several different health issues, like hepatitis or nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, many cases are caused by prolonged, steady bouts of heavy alcoholic drinking. As such, it doesn’t take much to link the danger in young adults (and even teens) who regularly drink heavily and the long term prognosis of their liver, and thus their overall health. The more time they have to destroy the liver with heavy and regular drinking, the more likely they are to suffer the consequences earlier on in life, thus extending the time they’ll deal with the dire consequences of their choices. You see, once a patient has cirrhosis, it will not go away. And while it can be slowed through lifestyle choices and medical help, the damage already done can become a magnet or invitation for easy access into more liver issues outside of cirrhosis.
So, how can you tell if you have cirrhosis of the liver? What are the symptoms?
While drinking heavily puts you at risk for cirrhosis, not every heavy drinker will have advanced cirrhosis of the liver or contract end-stage liver disease. In addition, those affected may not notice cirrhosis symptoms until the disease has further progressed. You see, many of the symptoms one may see first can be identified as symptoms of another disease or ailment. However, there are some you should immediately report to your physician when you first see them - whether you feel you have cirrhosis or not:
In more advanced cases, a patient may see spider-like veins appear on their skin and their abdomen may swell. If you have any questions or concerns about any of the symptoms presented above, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us and schedule an appointment.
Cirrhosis is a preventable disease. If you’re concerned about possible liver problems, it’s best to ask your doctor for testing as soon as possible, as cirrhosis is most often successfully treated when it is diagnosed in the early stages.
The most successful form of treatment is for patients to stop drinking entirely once they are diagnosed. Again, while the damage to the liver can’t be reversed, you can salvage what is left of the liver. It is an amazing organ that can adapt and continue to function as long as it isn’t irreparably and completely damaged. Unfortunately, for an alcoholic, this can be a tall order without outside help.
If drinking is causing mild problems and you feel like you would like to slow down or stop completely, it’s a good idea to talk to your physician about your drinking. They can recommend or even help you find programs and intensives to help address this addiction. If you’re not quite ready to talk to your physician, there are many checklists and self-tests on the internet that may help you take a closer look at your consumption.
If the cirrhosis of the liver has advanced, there are other treatment options your health care provider will advise you on as well. These can include kidney dialysis, medications, and in end-stage liver failure, transplantation.
So, should you go cold-turkey when it comes to alcohol? Well, that decision is up to you. Whether you are a young, otherwise healthy adult or someone a little more advanced in age, we recommend talking to your doctor here to discuss whether alcohol consumption is right for you or not. Sure, ‘one drink won’t kill you’. However, no one ever thought that one drink would lead them on a journey where many years down the road, they were dealing with a liver disease early in adulthood. If you are going to drink without consulting a physician, studies show that moderation is the key to potentially avoiding long-term damage to your liver.
If you want to learn more about how to promote better liver health, make an appointment with us today. You only have one liver, and we want to help you make sure you have it for life.