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Alcohol Related Liver Disease

Alcohol-related liver disease (ARLD) is where the liver is damaged by drinking too much alcohol. The liver is a complex organ that regulates blood sugar and cholesterol levels, filters toxins and helps fight disease and infection.

What causes alcohol related liver disease?

Alcohol related liver disease can regenerate itself but prolonged alcohol misuse can lead to permanent damage. More than nine million people in England drink more than the recommended daily amounts of alcohol and an estimated 7.5 million are unaware of the damage their drinking could cause, according to the charity Alcohol Concern.

Being overweight or obese can add to the risk along with having a pre-existing liver condition such as hepatitis C.

Symptoms

The symptoms of alcohol related liver disease (ARLD) is where the liver is damaged by drinking too much alcohol. often don’t appear until after the liver has been badly damaged. The initial symptoms range from abdominal pain through loss of appetitive, feeling nauseous to fatigue and diarrhea and general feeling of being unwell. As the condition deteriorates, the symptoms can include jaundice, swollen legs, weight loss, brain function problems, itchy skin, hair loss, nosebleeds and bleeding gums.

Diagnosis

A GP will ask about alcohol intake levels to determine if it could be the prime factor of the problems. It is important to be honest about consumption levels as it will have a bearing on timely treatment.

Blood tests to check liver function and an ultrasound scan will help the diagnosis and patients are referred to a hepatologist who specializes in liver conditions.

A liver biopsy, where a small piece of tissue is removed and examined under a microscope, may be required and CT and MRI scans may also be used. A consultant may also arrange for an endoscopy, a thin, flexible tube with a light and camera that is down the oesophagus to check for swollen veins (varices) which are a sign of advanced liver damage.

Treatment

The most important first step is to stop drinking alcohol which may need to be a permanent measure depending on the level of disease and damage. If the condition has advanced to alcoholic hepatitis or cirrhosis, then drinking must cease otherwise no medical intervention will prevent total liver failure.

Psychological support may be needed to contend with the withdrawal symptoms from giving up alcohol and medication may be prescribed to help the detox process.

A balanced diet with reduced salt intake is often recommended and a range of medications can be used to reduce the impact of the symptoms, such as calcium and vitamin D to reduce the risk of osteoporosis.

The swollen veins often associated with ARLD can be removed by band ligation which involves applying small elastic bands around the sites to prevent bleeding. A hepatologist can also employ a procedure to create a new channel in the liver to relieve blood pressure.

A liver transplant is the final option but it is a huge undertaking which involve total abstinence and a lifelong medical regimen to ensure the new organ is not rejected. At any one time, around 600 people are on the waiting list for a new liver, according to NHS Blood and Transplant, with the average wait 145 days.

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Patient information

Our Hospital is renowned for providing exemplary levels of care across more than 90 services. From orthopaedics, to urology, our private GP practice and Urgent Care Clinic, our services are led by some of London’s leading Consultants. For more information, and to find a service suitable for your care, find out more about the services that we offer.

Make an enquiry

If you have any questions relating to treatment options or pricing information, get in touch with us by filling out one of our contact boxes or giving us a call on 020 7078 3802.

Our Appointments Team have a dedicated and caring approach to finding you the earliest appointment possible with the best specialist.

If you are self-paying you don’t need a referral from your GP for a consultation. You can simply refer yourself* and book an appointment.

If you have health insurance (e.g. Bupa, Axa Health, Aviva), you will need to contact your insurer to get authorisation before any treatment, and in most cases you will also require a referral letter from your GP.

If you are not registered with a GP, we have an in-house private GP practice you can use. Alternatively, we can suggest the most appropriate course of action for you to take, given your location and individual circumstances.

*Please note – for investigations such as X-rays and MRIs, a referral will be required. However, we may be able to arrange this for you through our on-site private GP.

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