A-Z of health
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Alcoholic liver disease
Complications of alcoholic liver disease
Complications of alcoholic liver disease include portal hypertension and hepatic encephalopathy.
Portal hypertension and varices
Portal hypertension occurs when the blood pressure inside your liver has risen to a potentially serious level.
When the liver becomes very scarred it is harder for blood to move through it. This leads to an increase in blood pressure.
The blood must also find a new way to return to your heart. It does this by opening up new blood vessels, usually along the lining of your stomach. These new blood vessels are known as varices.
If the blood pressure rises to a certain level, it can become too high for the varices to cope with, causing the walls of the varices to split and bleed.
This can cause long-term bleeding, which can lead to anaemia (a condition where the body does not have enough oxygen-carrying red blood cells).
Alternatively, the bleeding can be rapid and massive, causing you to:
- vomit blood
- pass stools that are very dark or tar-like
Split varices can be treated using an endoscope (a narrow tube with a camera at the end that is passed down into the stomach) to locate the varices. A tiny rubber band is then used to seal the base of the varices.
One of the most important functions of the liver is to remove toxins from your blood. If your liver is unable to do this due to hepatitis or cirrhosis, the levels of toxins in your blood increase. A high level of toxins in the blood due to liver damage is known as hepatic encephalopathy.
Symptoms of hepatic encephalopathy include:
- muscle stiffness
- muscle tremors
- difficulty speaking
- in very serious cases, coma
Hepatic encephalopathy may require admission to hospital. In the hospital the function of the body is supported while medication is given to remove toxins from the blood.
- Alcohol misuse
- Liver transplant
- Alcohol poisoning
- How alcohol affects health
- Find services: alcohol addiction support
- Fatty liver disease
- Down Your Drink: are you drinking too much?
- Alcohol effects: drinking causes damage you can't see
- British Liver Trust
- CORE: gut and liver disease
- Lab Tests Online: liver function test