Alcohol-related liver disease is liver damage that is caused by drinking too much alcohol. It accounts of 60% of all liver disease diagnoses in the UK. But what should you do if you find out that you have alcohol-related liver disease? In this blog, Lois Baily, Communications Officer at the British Liver Trust, provides some top tips.
A diagnosis of alcohol-related liver disease can be devastating for patients and their loved ones. Liver disease usually has no symptoms in the early stages, and many people are only diagnosed when the condition has progressed and treatment options are limited.
For some people, a diagnosis of liver disease may also come as a surprise. Alcohol dependency is a spectrum, and contrary to what some people think, you don’t have to be alcohol dependent to get alcohol-related liver disease. People with liver disease come from different backgrounds and socioeconomic groups. One in five adults in the UK drink alcohol at a level that could be harming their liver.
Luckily, no matter what stage your condition is when you’re diagnosed, there are people who can help you along the way. Here are some steps you can take if you’ve been diagnosed with alcohol-related liver disease.
Get help to stop drinking
If you are diagnosed with alcohol-related liver disease, it is really important that you stop drinking alcohol. This reduces the risk of further damage to your liver and gives it the best chance of recovering. You will also need to stop drinking in order to be eligible for a liver transplant.
If a person is dependent on alcohol, stopping drinking can be very difficult. Ask your doctor for details of support services in your area.
If you have been diagnosed with alcohol-related liver disease, you’ll probably have a lot of questions. However, it can be hard to remember everything you need to ask your doctor, especially if you’ve just received your diagnosis. Bringing a pen and paper to your appointments and having a loved one with you to take notes while you listen can be really helpful.
Questions you might like to ask include:
- What type of liver disease do I have? Is it definitely related to alcohol?
- How will the disease affect me physically?
- Do I need further tests to find out more?
- How and when will I get the results of the tests?
- What are my treatment options? What are the side effects of any treatments and how can they be managed?
- What is my prognosis?
- Am I likely to have complications and what should I look for?
- Is there anything I can do myself to slow down the progression of the disease?
- Are there any relevant research trials or clinical trials I could be part of?
- Is there a specialist nurse I can contact for further advice and support?
- Where can I find additional support and information (for example, helplines, charities, support groups or websites)?
- Who should I contact if I have more questions after this appointment?
- Can I have copies of any correspondence relating to my care?
If you have been diagnosed with cirrhosis or liver cancer, you’ll also need to ask for more specific information about these conditions. You can download the British Liver Trust’s liver cancer factsheet, which includes lots of information and questions to ask your doctor.
For more general information about alcohol and liver disease, you can also download the British Liver Trust’s factsheet, Alcohol and liver disease.
Get information from trusted sources
Your GP or specialist team should always be your first port of call for any questions about your care.
You can also get support for any liver condition from the British Liver Trust’s nurse-led helpline by calling freephone 0800 652 7330 (10.00am to 3.00pm, Monday to Friday) or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Their fully-qualified liver nurses are there to have a general chat, in confidence, about symptoms and how to manage them, how the liver works, living with liver disease, how to look after yourself, and much more.
Know what care you should expect
All liver disease patients should receive a high standard of care. Your doctor should clearly explain your diagnosis and treatment options. You should feel empowered to ask about your care and you should be treated with respect. Take the time to read the liver disease patient charter, which outlines the care you should expect at every stage of your treatment.
Talk to other people with alcohol-related liver disease
Lots of people find that joining a support group helps them overcome both the emotional and practical challenges of a liver disease diagnosis. The British Liver Trust runs regular support groups for anyone affected by alcohol-related liver disease. You can also talk to others with liver disease by joining its online community, which is moderated by experienced liver nurses.
Get support from loved ones
Some people prefer not to tell people about their diagnosis because they’re worried they will be judged or stigmatised because of their condition. Although it’s a very personal decision, talking as openly as possible about your liver condition with a loved one could really help. Many people say that the support of friends or family has been key in helping them manage their condition.
Have regular check ups
Regular checkups are really important to see if your liver health is improving, stable or getting worse. Ask your doctor where and when these will be, and make sure you attend them. If you need help getting to your appointments, let your doctor know.
Learn how to love your liver
Alcohol is not the only cause of liver disease. Being a healthy weight, eating healthily and getting tested for viral hepatitis if you’re at risk are also really important for good liver health. You can find out if you are at risk of alcohol-related liver disease by taking the British Liver Trust’s online screener.
Written by Lois Baily
Find out more about alcohol-related liver disease on the British Liver Trust website.
If you are worried about your own or someone else’s drinking, there is help available.
Drinkline is the national alcohol helpline. Calls are free and confidential. Call 0300 123 1110 (weekdays 9.00am to 8.00pm, weekends 11.00am to 4.00pm).
More information about organisations which offer help and support can be found on our support page.
This blog was published with the permission of the author. The views expressed are solely the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of the Alcohol Health Alliance or its members.