LIVER DISEASE AND CIRRHOSIS

 
 
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From fatty liver to cirrhosis

Our liver helps process the alcohol we consume and is the main place where alcohol is metabolised.

Regularly drinking too much alcohol can result in liver tissue being slowly damaged and replaced by scar tissue.  

A fatty or enlarged liver is the early stages of liver disease. Reducing or stopping drinking will be recommended by health professionals to allow the liver to improve. At this stage the damage is usually reversible after a period of not drinking (typically two weeks).

With prolonged alcohol misuse the liver eventually may not be able to heal itself and this can lead to serious problems, even death.

Cirrhosis is the final phase of chronic liver disease. The rates of death due to alcohol related liver damage is on the rise.

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Symptoms

Fatty liver rarely causes any symptoms and is usually detected during blood tests. It is a warning sign that the liver is not coping. However, symptoms of cirrhosis include:

Early stage

  • Feeling tired and weak

  • Nausea

  • Loss of appetite

  • Loss of sex drive

Later stage

  • Jaundice (yellowing of skin and eyes)

  • Vomiting blood

  • Itchy skin

  • Swelling in tummy or legs

Speak to your GP about a liver function test if you’re experiencing worrying symptoms.

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Complications

While there is currently no treatment for cirrhosis, it is possible to slow progress of the disease. Life expectancy improves in cases where the person makes the decision to abstain from alcohol. For dependent drinkers getting support from the local alcohol treatment service is recommended. 

There are many complications from a liver disease including:

  • Internal bleeding

  • Encephalopathy, which is a build-up of toxins in the brain

  • Ascites, which is fluid build-up in the abdominal lining

  • Associated kidney failure

  • Liver cancer

  • Increased risk of contracting infections


Liver disease is one of the few major causes of premature mortality that is increasing, and deaths have increased by around 40% in a decade. Hospital admissions due to liver disease in England have increased by 44% in the last 8 years
— Public Health England (2018). Local Alcohol Profiles for England.

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