Jaundice is one of the most common symptoms of liver disease. It’s caused by an excessive amount of a substance called bilirubin in the blood, which causes a noticeable yellowing of the skin and the whites of the eyes. Alcoholic jaundice signifies the progression of alcoholic liver disease, and it’s often found as a result of cirrhosis, the final, irreversible stage of the condition. If you or your loved one has developed jaundice as a result of drinking, finding medical help is extremely important, and you should abstain from alcohol immediately, but not without medical support.
Bilirubin is the chemical at the heart of alcoholic jaundice. When red blood cells naturally break down they release the substance into the body. The liver processes this waste product, combining it with bile and flushing it into the digestive system, where it is eventually released as urine or faeces (and gives both their distinctive colours). If for any reason the liver isn’t doing its job, the substance accumulates in the blood and body tissue, indicating that there is a serious problem with normal functioning. Amongst others, this can be a result of gallstones, sickle cell anaemia or excessive alcohol consumption.
Alcohol causes liver problems because it has to be processed by the organ in order to be removed from the body. A consistent onslaught of alcohol can be extremely damaging for some drinkers’ livers, leading to the progression of alcoholic liver disease. The first stage is characterized by a fatty build-up in the liver, which then progresses to hepatitis and finally to cirrhosis. Hepatitis is when the liver becomes inflamed, and cirrhosis is when the normal tissue is gradually replaced by scar tissue. This abundance of scar tissue adversely affects liver function, and can develop into decompensated cirrhosis, where there isn’t enough ordinary tissue to metabolise substances properly.
Cirrhosis is the stage of alcoholic liver disease when the individual is most likely to develop jaundice. It can happen in hepatitis, but it’s more likely to be indicative of a severe case of liver disease. The yellowing of the skin and the eyes should be easy to spot, and the individual may also have dark urine and pale faeces. Other symptoms of alcoholic jaundice include itchy skin and unusual weight loss. If you or your loved one is displaying these symptoms, you should seek medical assistance – it will likely be the result of drinking, but it’s important to get an expert opinion.
Unfortunately, the build-up of scar tissue in the advanced stages of alcoholic liver disease is irreversible. A liver transplant could be useful, but this generally isn’t possible for alcoholics because of the obvious risk of damage to the organ. Even though you may be committed to recovery, with many people desperately needing a liver, anybody with alcohol problems is an unlikely candidate. The only thing you can do to prolong your life is to abstain from drinking as soon as you notice alcoholic jaundice. If you only have hepatitis or compensated cirrhosis, your alcoholic liver disease will progress more quickly towards decompensated cirrhosis if you continue drinking, and it will always decrease your chances of survival.
If you or your loved one needs to stop drinking because of alcoholic jaundice, we can help you find the care you need. Although alcoholism carries significant physical risks, addiction is always a psychological problem which requires treatment in a dedicated alcohol rehab facility. We have an exhaustive knowledge of the different centres located across the country, and we’ll suggest the best options for your circumstances. We’ll also answer any questions you have about treatment and can explain the different therapeutic models to you. Our advice doesn’t cost you anything, so pick up the phone and get in touch!