Alcoholic fatty liver disease is not a novel disease nor a rare occurrence. In fact, alcoholic liver disease in general is the main cause of liver cirrhosis and failure in Western countries. Most people who drink excessive amounts of alcohol even for a short period of time cause the accumulation of fat inside their liver cells. Unlike non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, alcoholic fatty liver disease has a clear cause which is alcohol consumption.
People who have alcoholic liver fatty liver disease pass through stages before their liver is permanently damaged. Understanding these stages is important to know when intervention can be useful in reversing damage and when it is too late. Basically, four stages exist which are:
- Alcoholic steatosis (fat accumulation within liver cells)
- Alcoholic steatohepatitis (inflammation)
The end result is usually liver cell failure or liver cancer. Both are absolute indications for liver transplantation. An adult human cannot survive past 24 hours without at least a partially functioning liver.
Alcoholic steatosis and steatohepatitis
The accumulation of fat within liver cells occurs due to the direct effect of alcohol on metabolism. Alcohol causes liver cell damage and the mobilization of fats, which puts the liver on severe stress. There is no specific amount of alcohol that can cause liver cell damage. However, it was noticed that fat accumulation can occur within only 2 days of alcohol excessive consumption, and it can be reversed within 2 weeks at this stage. This serves to point out how reversible the damage is in its early stage.
When the disease is advanced enough, inflammation occurs. Inflammation is directly caused by the alcohol itself and indirectly through the accumulation of fat. At this stage, liver damage is greatly accelerated. Although the damage itself cannot be stopped, if the triggering factor (Alcohol) is removed, the liver can repair itself within months.