Alcoholic cirrhosis is a type of liver disease caused by chronic, excessive drinking. It develops over a long period of time and damages the liver, leading to scarring of the liver tissue and medical complications. The damage caused by this condition is irreversible; alcoholic cirrhosis can be fatal.
There are different types of alcohol-induced liver disease, but alcoholic cirrhosis is considered the most serious. Caused by heavy drinking over a long period of time, alcoholic cirrhosis is marked by the development of scar tissue that replaces normal liver tissue.The scar tissue makes it difficult for the liver to perform as it should, contributing to such issues as impaired clotting, toxin build-up in the blood, high blood pressure in the liver and digestive system bleeding.
According to Merck.com, cirrhosis is one of the most common causes of death among those between the ages of 45 to 65. The New York Times reports that 85% of those with the disease have a life expectancy of about 5 years. Once the disease reaches later stages, the prognosis is more dire. According to PubMed, the midpoint survival time for patients with advanced alcoholic cirrhosis is 1 to 2 years. Life expectancy may be significantly lower for those who continue to drink alcohol after diagnosis.
Development of the Disease
Alcoholic cirrhosis takes a long time to develop. According to the American Liver Foundation, it usually develops after a decade or more of heavy drinking, and up to 20% of heavy drinkers are eventually diagnosed with it. Additionally, a person may develop cirrhosis after being diagnosed with other alcohol-related liver diseases, such as fatty liver disease (marked by a build-up of fat cells in the liver) and alcoholic hepatitis (marked by liver inflammation).
Symptoms of cirrhosis may include weakness, fatigue and loss of appetite. Patients may also experience nausea, vomiting, and pain or bloating in the abdominal area. Some patients note weight loss, frequent infections, itching, skin yellowing and spider-like veins on the skin.
If you have alcoholic cirrhosis, the first step in treatment is to stop drinking. While this will not cure the condition, it can help to lengthen your life expectancy. Doctors may treat cirrhosis with medications, but once it reaches a life-threatening stage, a liver transplant may be the only hope. When medication or transplant surgery is not an option, treatment may focus on keeping you as comfortable as possible and helping you to make decisions regarding the end of your life.