Alcoholic liver disease

Living with liver disease

If you have alcoholic liver disease, you may need to make lifestyle changes depending on which stage it’s at.

If you have cirrhosis, stop drinking immediately as alcohol increases the rate at which the condition progresses, regardless of the cause.

Talk to your GP or pharmacist if you are taking over-the-counter or prescription medications and are diagnosed with alcoholic liver disease. This is important because the liver processes some medications.

Withdrawal symptoms

If you are abstaining from alcohol you may suffer withdrawal symptoms.

Your withdrawal symptoms will be at their worst for the first 48 hours. They should gradually start to improve as your body adjusts to being without alcohol. This usually takes between three and seven days from the time of your last drink.

You will also find that your sleep is disturbed. You may wake often during the night or have problems getting to sleep. This is to be expected and your sleep patterns should return to normal within a month.

If you are taking medication to help ease your withdrawal symptoms, you should not drive or operate heavy machinery because the medication will probably make you feel drowsy. Only take your medication as directed.

Detox can be a stressful time. Ways that you can try to relieve stress include listening to music, going for a walk or taking a bath.

If you are detoxing at home you will regularly see a nurse or other health professional. You might see them at home, at your GP surgery or at a specialist NHS service. You will also be given the relevant contact details for other support services should you need additional alcohol support.

Withdrawal from alcohol is an important first step to overcoming your problems with alcohol. However, withdrawal is not an effective treatment by itself. You will be advised to undergo further treatment and support to help you in the long-term, depending on what stage your alcoholic liver disease is at.

Diet

It is important to eat a well-balanced diet to counter the effects of malnutrition, which is common with alcoholic liver disease. You may also need extra energy and protein in your diet. Liver disease can cause the liver to stop working properly, so it may be unable to store glycogen, the carbohydrate that provides short-term energy. When this happens, the body uses its own muscle tissue to provide energy between meals, which leads to muscle wasting and weakness.

Healthy snacking between meals can top up your calories and protein, which helps preserve muscles and keeps them strong. Nourishment will make you feel better, so try to eat regularly, about every two to three hours.

Limit your caffeine intake. Caffeine is processed through the liver and eliminated from the body by the kidneys. This process is drastically affected by cirrhosis and can result in a higher concentration of caffeine in the blood, causing headaches, fatigue, insomnia and anxiety. Avoid drinks that contain caffeine such as coffee, tea and some soft drinks.

One of the symptoms of end-stage liver disease is an accumulation of fluid in the abdomen, called ascites. If you have ascites, reduce the amount of salt in your diet to 1,000mg a day (500mg if possible). This will help reduce the amount of fluid in your body.

Last updated: 29 February 2012