Drinking too much alcohol causes a build-up of fat in the liver, leading to what is known as alcoholic fatty liver disease.
The liver is responsible for filtering harmful substances that we eat or drink, including alcohol. If there is an excess of alcohol, the liver is unable to cope and cannot process the toxins properly, including fat, which is deposited in the liver. Even binge drinking for just a few days can lead to a build-up of fats in the liver.
Alcohol is not the only cause of fatty liver disease. It can also be caused by other conditions such as obesity, diabetes or a genetic inheritance. Fatty liver disease which is caused by alcohol is known as Alcohol Related Fatty Liver Disease (ARLD).
What are the symptoms of alcohol related fatty liver disease?
The symptoms of fatty liver disease can be quite vague and could often be related to other conditions. You may find that you are tired all the time and experience vague discomfort in your abdomen. Your liver may become enlarged but you will not know this as it you will not be able to feel it.
The danger arises if the individual continues to drink and more complications can develop into Alcoholic hepatitis or Cirrhosis of the Liver. The progression of liver disease usually follows two stages, where many heavy drinkers will progress from fatty liver disease to alcoholic hepatitis to cirrhosis of the liver. Some may develop cirrhosis without having alcoholic hepatitis first.
How is alcoholic fatty liver disease diagnosed?
A Doctor may suspect fatty liver disease after a physical examination where they may be able to feel an enlarged liver, particularly if you have a history of alcohol abuse. The condition can be confirmed by a blood test.
How is alcoholic fatty liver disease treated?
The good news is that fatty liver disease caused by alcohol is completely reversible if you stop drinking. As long as your liver has not sustained further damage from excessive prolonged drinking, progressing to cirrhosis of the liver, then the fat residues on the liver will gradually reduce and the liver will return to normal.
If the liver disease has progressed to alcoholic hepatitis or cirrhosis, it can no longer be reversed with abstinence but the progression can still be slowed or halted by cutting out alcohol.
Treatment may require you to take part in an alcohol recovery programme to help you stop drinking.
How can you prevent alcoholic fatty liver disease?
If you keep your alcohol consumption within the government recommended guidelines for drinking, you are unlikely to develop alcoholic fatty liver disease.