Forty-eight-year-old Nitin Patel (name changed) had been told that his liver was scarred after 20 long years of drinking alcohol. He was advised to undergo liver transplantation after six months of abstaining from alcohol, with a small possibility of recovery.
Nitin was terrified and gave up alcohol despite severe withdrawal symptoms of tremors, body ache and palpitations. His liver recovered, albeit slowly. At the end of six months, he was told that he did not need the transplant any more.
All patients with alcohol-related liver disease are not as lucky as Nitin. Most cannot afford a transplant and some die waiting for a liver transplant.
Alcohol can damage practically all the organs in the human body. Alcohol-related liver disease develops in those who drink more than 40gm of alcohol every day for more than 10 years.
Genetic and environmental factors play a role and women are more prone to developing liver disease as they metabolise alcohol differently.
The type of alcohol be it beer, wine or whisky does not matter. The liver does not recognise the “quality” of alcohol. It treats the finest scotch whisky with as much disdain as country liquor. It is also a myth that harmful effects on the liver may be prevented by taking so-called liver protective drugs available in the market.
Alcohol accounts for 20% to 30% of patients with chronic liver disease and the spectrum includes a fatty liver, alcoholic hepatitis — the patient presents with jaundice and symptoms of liver failure and cirrhosis where there is scarring and loss of liver function with development of complications like swelling of feet and abdomen, vomiting of blood or becoming unconscious from accumulation of toxic ammonia in the brain. Some patients may also develop cancerous tumours.
It is often stated that a glass of wine is good for the heart but alcohol is also known to increase blood pressure and cause weight gain, which negate the “beneficial” effects. Regular exercise and a healthy diet can provide a much wider range of health benefits.
Also, from the sheer nature of its addictive prowess, when a glass of wine a day gets converted into a few pegs of whisky, then the liver may become truly unforgiving.
— Dr Aabha Nagral is a specialist in liver diseases, Jaslok and Fortis hospitals