Learn about the different types of alcoholic liver disease

Many people know that drinking alcohol can cause liver damage, but some don’t realize how serious the damage can be. Drinking is considered excessive if you are:

  • A woman who has more than three drinks at once, or seven drinks in a week
  • A man who has more than four drinks at once, or 14 drinks in a week

Excessive drinking can be very dangerous to your health and can cause these types of alcoholic liver disease (ALD):

  • Alcoholic fatty liver
  • Alcoholic hepatitis
  • Alcoholic cirrhosis

If you have been diagnosed with alcoholic liver disease talk to you doctor immediately about treatment options. Learn more about Living-Donor Liver Transplants at UPMC.

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3 Types of Alcoholic Liver Disease

Alcoholic fatty liver

The first and most common type of ALD is alcoholic fatty liver. While this is the least severe form of ALD, affecting 20 percent of heavy drinkers, it still can cause dangerous side effects.

Alcohol fatty liver is a silent disease with few or no symptoms, but damage to the liver is still occurring.

If alcohol consumption is stopped or significantly reduced, the disease can be reversed. Alcoholic fatty liver can lead to alcoholic hepatitis.

Alcoholic hepatitis

Alcoholic hepatitis is much more serious and can be harder to control.
People diagnosed with alcoholic hepatitis may experience the following symptoms:

The disease can progress quickly, so it’s important to monitor your symptoms and speak with your doctor immediately.

About 40 percent of people with alcoholic hepatitis can develop alcoholic cirrhosis if the disease is left untreated and drinking continues.

Alcoholic cirrhosis

The most severe type of ALD is alcoholic cirrhosis which occurs when scar tissue damages the liver and prevents it from working properly.

People diagnosed with alcoholic cirrhosis may experience:

  • Redness of the palms of their hands
  • Shortening of muscles in the fingers
  • Thickening of the fingers
  • Liver enlargement and inflammation
  • Abnormal buildup of fat in normal liver cells

The best way to prevent further damage is to stop drinking completely and seek help right away.

Alcoholic Cirrhosis and Liver Transplant

If the liver is too severely damaged, a liver transplant may be necessary. For patients in need of a liver transplant, every moment is critical; the sooner you receive a transplant, the less damage happens to your body.

Unfortunately, with more than 14,000 Americans on the waiting list for a liver, the wait for a transplant may take years.

To reduce the wait time, many patients consider a living-donor liver transplant. Because the liver can regenerate, it is possible for someone to donate a portion of their healthy liver to someone in need of a transplant. Both livers will regenerate, or regrow, within about three months.

Find a Living Donor Using Living Donor Champion

Sometimes the hardest part of finding a living donor is building up the courage to ask. A living donor champion can help make this overwhelming task more manageable.

A living donor champion is someone who supports you through your journey and shares your story to find a living donor. While you focus on remaining healthy, they can focus on connecting with people who may be able to save your life.

If you have been diagnosed with alcoholic liver disease talk to you doctor immediately about treatment options. Learn more about Living-Donor Liver Transplants at UPMC.

If you think you or someone you love has a drinking problem, visit UPMC Addiction Medicine.


About Transplant Services

For more than four decades, UPMC Transplant Services has been a leader in organ transplantation. Our clinicians have performed more than 20,000 organ transplant procedures, making UPMC one of the foremost organ transplant centers in the world. We are home to some of the world’s foremost transplant experts and take on some of the most challenging cases. Through research, we have developed new therapies that provide our patients better outcomes — so organ recipients can enjoy better health with fewer restrictions. Above all, we are committed to providing compassionate, complete care that can change – and save – our patients’ lives. Visit our website to find a provider near you.