When it comes to diseases related to alcohol, people often have a picture in their minds of an older, sick alcoholic who’s been drinking nonstop for years. But the fact is, no one is immune to alcoholism. Alcohol-related disease can happen to anyone: teenagers, young professionals, the elderly, and both men and women. A recent surge in alcohol-related deaths is concerning, as there is a spike in cases of cirrhosis in those between the ages of 25 to 34. Read on to learn about cirrhosis and the problems it causes.
Cirrhosis and Liver Disease
Cirrhosis can be caused by several different health issues, such as hepatitis or nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. However, most cases of cirrhosis are caused by prolonged, steady bouts of heavy, alcoholic drinking. Cirrhosis is permanent damage (scarring) of the liver. For those that drink alcoholically, each drink going forward does irreparable damage. In fact, mild scarring turns to permanent liver damage through several different stages, and at the end stage leads to complete liver failure (death).
Once a patient has cirrhosis, it will not go away. However, its progression can be slowed with early treatment, and it is not always fatal if it is arrested. The most successful form of treatment is for patients to stop drinking entirely once they are diagnosed. Unfortunately, for an alcoholic, this can be a tall order without outside help.
There are other liver diseases, such as high levels of liver enzymes or fatty liver, which are reversible once a patient stops drinking. In most cases, the liver is a very elastic, versatile organ that bounces back from several different types of injury. This is not so with cirrhosis, and it is a grave diagnosis.
More About Cirrhosis
While drinking heavily puts you at risk for cirrhosis, not every heavy drinker contracts end-stage liver disease. If you’re concerned about possible liver problems, it’s best to ask your doctor for testing as soon as possible. Cirrhosis is most often only successfully treated during the beginning stages. Patients may not notice cirrhosis symptoms until it’s too late, however, there are some you should immediately report to your physician, including jaundice, easy bruising, loss of body mass, and extremity swelling (hands, feet, and ankles). While these symptoms may be indicative of other problems, they are also often signs of liver disease.
The best treatment for any stage of cirrhosis is to stop drinking. 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. 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.
Alcohol and Young People
In the past, those who suffered from cirrhosis were usually in an older age group and were career alcoholics. However, a recent study published by the British Medical Journal revealed shocking statistics. Over an 18-year span from 1999 to 2016, there was a 10 percent spike in cirrhosis deaths for those between the ages of 25 and 34. Overall deaths (including all age groups) increased by 55 percent during those years. Liver cancer rates in all age groups also skyrocketed and increased by 43 percent between 2000 and 2016.
Cirrhosis is a preventable disease. Unfortunately, patients (especially those of the younger generation) are drinking too much and too often, causing permanent liver damage and death.
Drinking in moderation is actually recommended by many health professionals as a healthy habit, and even has been found to prevent hypertension. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “moderate drinking” equates to one drink a day for women, not to exceed four drinks in one sitting. For men, guidelines suggest two drinks a day, and no more than five in a sitting. Of course, no one will develop cirrhosis after a New Year’s Eve party or if they’ve had “one too many”–but these are good guidelines to adhere to regularly. To learn more about how to promote better liver health, make an appointment with GI Associates today. With three different locations, our GI specialists are here to help you manage every step of your gastrointestinal health and offer many gastroenterology services.