How Long Can I Live With Alcoholic Liver Disease?

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A diagnosis of alcoholic liver disease may leave you wondering how long you have to live. The reality is that it's different for every person and it's something that is best discussed with your doctor. Protocols are used to give an individual prognosis based on your physical condition, test results, and severity of symptoms.

symptoms of alcoholic liver disease
Verywell / Emily Roberts

Symptoms and Warning Signs

If you're concerned that you have alcoholic liver disease, see a medical professional as soon as possible. Which symptoms you have and how severe they are, depends on a variety of factors, including pre-existing conditions and the progression of the disease.

In the early stages of alcoholic liver disease, you may not have any symptoms at all. Additionally, symptoms seem to worsen after a period of heavy drinking. The three main categories of symptoms are:

  • Digestive problems: Including abdominal swelling, dry mouth, and bleeding from enlarged esophageal veins
  • Dermatological issues: Including yellowing of the skin, red spider-like veins, and redness on your feet
  • Brain and nervous system abnormalities: Including memory problems, numbness in extremities, and fainting

Causes

Many years of heavy drinking—either every day or only a few days per week—causes inflammation in the liver. It does not matter whether you get drunk or not. This can lead to scarring and cirrhosis, the final phase of alcoholic liver disease.

How long you have to live after your diagnosis depends on your health and how far the disease has progressed. Of all the things you can do to increase your lifespan, the most important may be to quit drinking.

Risk Factors

Only some heavy drinkers will eventually develop alcoholic liver disease. Your rate of risk depends on:

  • The amount you drink
  • How many years you've been drinking
  • The history of alcoholic liver disease in your family

Mortality and Survival Rates

If you are diagnosed with advanced cirrhosis of the liver you will be assessed to predict your short-term prognosis. The 30-day mortality rate for alcoholic hepatitis has a wide range from zero to 50% and there are scoring models to assess individual prognosis based on your laboratory test results.

One scoring system for cirrhosis is the Child-Turcotte-Pugh system. It can be interpreted with these survival rates:

  • 5 to 6 points (low risk): one-year survival 100%, two-year survival 85%
  • 7 to 9 points (moderate risk): one-year survival 80%, two-year survival 60%
  • 10 to 15 points (high risk): one-year survival 45%, two-year survival 35%

One large factor in mortality is whether the person discontinues alcohol. Overall, the five-year survival is 60% for those who stop drinking and less than 30% in those who continue to drink.

Treatment for Alcoholic Liver Disease

If you haven't reached the cirrhosis stage yet, the liver damage may heal if you stop drinking alcohol. Those who are alcohol dependent may require professional treatment to break their addiction.

If you have cirrhosis, your physician will discuss how to manage your specific complications. Some patients at this late stage will require a liver transplant.

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