How Long Can I Live With Alcoholic Liver Disease?

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If you've been diagnosed with alcoholic liver disease, you may wonder how long you have to live.

It's not a simple question to answer, though. Life expectancy for people with alcoholic liver disease is different for everyone. Discuss your concerns with your doctor.

A person's prognosis is based on many different factors, such as:

  • Your physical condition
  • Test results
  • Severity of symptoms

This article looks at the causes of alcoholic liver disease, its symptoms, and its treatment. It also discusses survival rates after diagnosis.

symptoms of alcoholic liver disease
Verywell / Emily Roberts

Causes of Alcoholic Liver Disease

Many years of heavy drinking causes inflammation of the liver. This is also called alcoholic hepatitis.

Note that "hepatitis" is a term used to describe any inflammation of the liver. Hepatitis can have both viral and non-viral causes.

You do not need to drink every day to develop alcoholic hepatitis. A few days a week of heavy drinking over many years can also cause liver disease. You are at risk whether or not your drinking makes you feel drunk.

Inflammation of the liver can lead to scarring. Extensive scarring is called cirrhosis. Cirrhosis is 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 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

Symptoms and Warning Signs

If you're worried you might have alcoholic liver disease, see a doctor right away. A variety of factors can affect your symptoms, including:

  • Pre-existing conditions
  • Disease progression

In the early stages, you may not have any symptoms. If you do have symptoms, they may seem to worsen after a period of heavy drinking.

The three main categories of symptoms are:

Recap

In the early stages of alcoholic liver disease, you may have no symptoms. Later symptoms may include digestive problems, skin problems, and problems related to the brain and nervous system.

Mortality and Survival Rates

For alcoholic hepatitis, the percentage of people who are expected to die within the first 30 days after diagnosis is difficult to predict. The number can range from 0% to 50% and is dependent on how advanced the disease is at the time of diagnosis.

If you have alcoholic liver disease, your healthcare providers will try to predict your short-term prognosis. Different scoring models can be used to predict each person's prognosis.

The MELD system is an example of a scoring system for people with liver disease. It is often used to identify liver transplant candidates. It is a calculation that includes a person's results on various lab tests of liver function.

Scoring works like this:

  • People who have a MELD score of less than 9 have a 1.9% to 3.7% risk of dying within the first three months.
  • People who have a MELD score of 10 to 19 have a 6% to 20% risk of dying within the first three months.
  • People who have a MELD score of 20 to 29 have a 19.6% to 45.5% risk of dying within the first three months.
  • People who have a MELD score of 30 to 39 have a 52.6% to 74.5% risk of dying within the first three months.
  • People who have a MELD score of over 40 have a 71% to 100% risk of dying within the first three months.

People with alcoholic liver disease who stop drinking have a much better chance of long-term survival. Overall, the five-year survival rate is 60% for those who stop drinking and less than 30% for those who don't.

Recap

Your prognosis is based on your individual lab results. Your chances of survival will go up if you stop drinking.

Treatment for Alcoholic Liver Disease

If you do not yet have cirrhosis, your liver may heal if you stop drinking alcohol. If you are alcohol dependent, you may need professional treatment to break your addiction.

If you have cirrhosis, your doctor will talk with you about how to manage your specific complications. At this stage, some patients need a liver transplant.

Summary

Alcoholic liver disease is caused by many years of drinking. Cirrhosis of the liver is the final stage.

People with alcoholic liver disease may have digestive problems, skin problems, and/or brain and nervous system problems.

Prognosis is calculated based on your lab results. Each person's prognosis is unique.

One of the best ways to improve your prognosis is to stop drinking. Patients with cirrhosis may need a liver transplant.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is the life expectancy of someone with cirrhosis of the liver?

    It depends on many factors. Your doctor will score your liver disease based on number of factors, including:

    • Bilirubin
    • Protein in the blood
    • How long it takes blood to clot
    • Fluid build-up
    • Hepatic encephalopathy, a nervous system disorder caused by toxins building up in your body

    Your healthcare provider will estimate your two-year survival rate based on these scores.

  • Are the late stages of cirrhosis painful?

    Yes. Pain increases as the disease progresses. About half of those with the disease say the pain becomes chronic. You may have an overall sense of discomfort and a recurrent throbbing or stabbing feeling in the abdomen. You may also feel pain in other areas as the cirrhosis causes inflammation throughout the body.

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4 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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