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Physical Signs of Alcoholic Liver Disease: What You Need to Know

    Physical Signs of Alcoholic Liver Disease: What You Need to Know

    Patients with alcoholic liver disease are usually diagnosed during the latter stage of their illness when the symptoms and damage to the liver are severe. Here are the physical signs of alcoholic liver disease.

    What is alcoholic liver disease?

    Long-term alcohol abuse leads to a condition known as alcoholic liver disease. This illness progressively worsens as the person keeps drinking, and can lead to serious health problems later on.

    It starts with a build-up of fats in the liver called alcoholic fatty liver disease. At this stage, patients usually have no symptoms, and fatty liver disease can go away after quitting alcohol for a few weeks.

    If the person still does not quit drinking, it can progress to alcoholic hepatitis, which can lead to the “end-stage” known as cirrhosis.

    If a person’s liver develops cirrhosis, it means that there’s scarring in the liver. This scarring affects how the liver functions. And if nothing is done about it, it can lead to liver failure, and eventually death.

    This is why aside from knowing the physical signs of alcoholic liver disease, it’s also important to drink in moderation. In fact, as much as possible, it would be best to avoid drinking altogether in order to prevent alcoholic liver disease.

    Alcoholic Liver Disease Prevention: What You Can Do

    What are the signs of alcoholic liver disease?

    Here are some of the signs of alcoholic liver disease to watch out for:

    Sudden weight loss

    This is one of the earliest possible signs of alcoholic liver disease. Sudden weight loss means that your body is having a hard time processing nutrients from the food you eat.


    Fatigue or weakness is another physical sign of alcoholic liver disease. The onset of fatigue is usually related to the fact that your body is not getting enough nutrition. As a result, you tend to lack energy or feel frequently tired, even if you did not exert yourself in any physical activity.


    Jaundice is a sign that your liver is not functioning as it should. It appears as a yellowing of the skin, the whites of the eyes, and the mucus membranes.

    The reason this happens is that there are high levels of bilirubin, which is a yellow-orange pigment formed when heme from red blood cells and other sources breaks down.

    What typically happens is that the liver is responsible for taking out the bilirubin from the blood. Afterward, the body excretes it as a waste product. However, if a person has liver damage, bilirubin builds up and causes the symptoms of jaundice to appear.

    physical signs of alcoholic liver disease

    Abdominal pain

    Abdominal pain is another physical sign of alcoholic liver disease. This typically happens in patients with more advanced cases of liver damage.

    The abdominal pain caused by alcoholic liver disease usually feels tender, and hurts when touched. Visit your doctor as soon as possible if you experience this.

    Fluid build-up or edema

    Edema, or fluid build-up, is one of the physical signs of alcoholic liver disease, particularly in the latter stages. This typically manifests in the legs, as well as the abdomen.

    This can happen because of two things; first, the portal vein in the liver starts to increase in pressure.

    Another possibility is that because the liver is not functioning well, it’s not creating certain blood proteins such as albumin. Albumin is a protein produced by the liver that prevents fluid in the bloodstream from leaking into other tissues.

    Key Takeaways

    If you notice any of the signs of alcoholic liver disease, it would be best to see your doctor as soon as possible. It would also be a good idea to quit drinking or drink moderately in order to protect your liver from further damage.

    Learn more about Digestive Health here.


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    Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.


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    Alcohol-Induced Liver Disease | Johns Hopkins Medicine, https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/alcoholinduced-liver-disease, Accessed December 22, 2020

    Alcoholic liver disease, https://www.wjgnet.com/1948-5182/full/v4/i3/81.htm, Accessed December 22, 2020

    Alcoholic Liver Disease – StatPearls – NCBI Bookshelf, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK546632/, Accessed December 22, 2020

    ACG Clinical Guideline: Alcoholic Liver Disease : Official journal of the American College of Gastroenterology | ACG, https://journals.lww.com/ajg/Fulltext/2018/02000/ACG_Clinical_Guideline__Alcoholic_Liver_Disease.9.aspx, Accessed December 22, 2020

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    Written by Jan Alwyn Batara Updated Aug 20, 2021
    Medically reviewed by Mia Dacumos, MD
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