There is no doubt that alcoholic liver cirrhosis is really serious, I mean really serious. Yet it is not very well-known. When I was given 48 hours to live I had to google it quickly and I know the medical team were fantastic but I wanted to know for myself.
To be honest this is probably the last thing your should do. I was not your typical drinker either, enjoying mainly wine after work and with friends, and many around me drank far more but when your get this disease for whatever reason it really hits you.
Before your get too depressed I am still living a healthy life but many are not so lucky as me. Quick caveat, I am looking at this from a patient point of view and not a medical practitioner so get urgent help, it could save your life and it certainly saved mine.
I was in that hospital within 30 minutes so that is how serious it can be and you may not even know it.
Alcoholic Liver Cirrhosis – what is it really?
Cirrhosis is really bad scarring of the liver tissue to the point where the liver does not work in the same way as it should. Now many people said to me of course that “the liver can heal ”.
Yes that is true but what I discovered is that for all that positive thinking there is a point of no return where the liver can be so badly scarred that the damage becomes irreversible.
Now the thing is I was a moderate drinker, so it can be affected by all sort of factors including stress, diet, genes and yes of course not looking after yourself. We are of course obsessed by the 10,000 steps recommended keeping the heart healthy but the alcohol limit seems to go a bit unchecked.
Maybe people laugh and say have one more for the road, it’s like a badge of honor. Mine was a glass of wine after work but over the year it adds up!
What does cirrhosis mean to everyday life?
Well I knew this but we only have one liver. I know it sounds obvious but even I had forgotten that! If your liver is gone it is gone. In everyday life the symptoms are not the obvious ones like pain which is universal and it can be in no particular order.
Before I list them, swelling, tiredness and jaundice were my big tell-tale signs but because my drinking was not excessive and doctors were a bit confused at first. The tests came and there was no arguing that my liver was not a well chap. Be aware you may get some but not all of these.
- Real fatigue
- That nausea feeling and I was actually gagging!
- I lost my appetite which if your are still drinking can add to the issue as the alcohol goes straight through your system.
- You can lose weight and muscle in particular, people thought I was a long distance runner!
- You can get red patches on your palms and small, spider-like blood vessels on your skin. They are called spider angiomas and are generally above the waist. I did not get these.
- My skin and eyes went yellow and this is known as jaundice, I mean really yellow.
- Vomiting blood can occur
- Itchy skin is up there and doctors looked at my chest a lot for scratching
- Very dark urine, like your are really dehydrated and then some but every day.
- You might bleed or bruise easily
- You get swelling in the legs known as (oedema) or tummy (ascites) from a build-up of fluid, which doctors for me removed straight away as it could be a cause of infection
The sooner your get checked out the better for these things and trust me your will know what they are even if like me your might be in denial.
As a have posted in another article the yellow skin was presumed to be a tan because I had just come back from Spain, however trust the people your don’t normally mix with who may notice something different about you, in my case it was someone at work who told I me was ill and yet I probably only ever seen her a few times a year.
There was my former personal assistant at a birthday party who said my eyes didn’t look right.
If people are less familiar with your day to day they may have a more accurate assessment. That was my experience anyway.
Do your have to be a heavy drinker?
There are many reasons for cirrhosis including hepatitis but for alcoholic liver cirrhosis the answer in my case was yes and no. I would never be drunk, I was social and drank in line with my friends drinking habits. I was not the guy who walked around with vodka in my hand and yet I fell to the disease that is alcoholic liver cirrhosis.
It is easy to forget even on a social basis that alcohol is poison. There is no need to repeat it? So long term is your are in one of those industries where socializing is the norm it can happen without your knowing until it’s too late. So the answer is of course yes and no.
It’s probably unhelpful but just think that alcoholic liver cirrhosis could be waiting in the wings regardless. You don’t have to be a massive drinker per se and if you are then I am not judging you and neither should anyone else. People in glass houses come to mind. We live in a culture where your are damned if you drink and damned if your don’t!
Is it reversible?
This was one of the questions I wanted to know straight away and of course once the severe damage is done it is done. Sitting here write this there is no cure. So my life was slipping away I asked a question which went like this. (To be fair the consultant just listened and was very straight with me).
If my liver is in trouble 10 it’s totally failed and 1 is not great where I am on that scale. The answer they gave was enough to scare the hell out of me, They said 8 and getting higher as we speak. I have never drunk alcohol since that moment.
So the honest answer is stop drinking alcohol and it may stop the cirrhosis getting worse and hope that there is enough undamaged liver to do the brilliant job it does.
A liver transplant is an option but with reduced resources, donors and increased risk don’t just depend on that option. There are skilled people who can advise you of those steps. Luckily for me as my consultant said I had “dodged a bullet”.
Attitudes to Alcoholic Liver Cirrhosis
As a part of your treatment and social network your will get all sorts of bias towards you. Even the term cirrhosis sends people running for the hills. Ignore them. Be true to yourself and follow the advice. Hopefully your will end up on a specialist ward like me where they totally get it. Accidents and emergencies can have a mixed response.
There will be advocates around just finding them or they will show up. There can be many other reasons over and above alcohol, like stress diet and genes but don’t be under any illusion that drink can be a killer.
On the outside I am living life to the full with balance, no alcohol and reduced work stress. So you can go on and live what will hopefully be a good life but in terms of your medical treatment it is a partnership, take the advice and think positive. You can do this!
As a result on my life changing moment I created blog to help people live an alcohol free lifestyle while still enjoying life both practically and fun without alcohol killing us. You can check out my best tasting 0.0ABV beers here is your fancy it!
If you are very dependent on alcohol the advice is stay away from non-alcoholic beers as well. Get advice and deep down you will know. For me it’s neither here not there so it is not an issue, but I like choice.
Remember life goes on. Please comment below as the discussion is important for others. Or check out my treatment more here.