Your liver is the biggest internal organ you have. It is responsible for breaking down the nutrients you eat, turning them into a form that can be used as energy when necessary. The liver also detoxifies the body of any waste products so that we aren't overcome by toxins. When the liver becomes injured, you generally don't know it until it becomes severely compromised. Liver pain after drinking is one of the signs that your liver is damaged or advanced alcohol-related liver disease.
What Happens to Liver When Drinking Alcohol?
The liver is affected when you drink alcohol. The alcohol becomes absorbed from the stomach and small intestines and travels in the bloodstream. The blood from the gastrointestinal tract travels through the liver first so that it takes on the brunt of having a high alcohol level. It attempts to detoxify the alcohol from the bloodstream before it goes to the rest of the body.
The liver has cells that contain enzymes, which are actively working proteins. These enzymes try to metabolize as much alcohol as possible, especially during the first pass. Alcohol is broken down into different chemicals that are finally absorbed into carbon dioxide and water. The lungs get rid of the carbon dioxide and the kidneys get rid of the water as urine. However, the liver has the capability of metabolizing only a certain amount of alcohol in one hour. This means that if you drink more alcohol than the liver can quickly metabolize, you will get liver pain and alcohol level in blood begins to go up.
What Does It Mean to Feel Liver Pain After Drinking Alcohol?
Painful liver after drinking alcohol is a phenomenon of drinking too much alcohol at one time. Doctors don't know why you have liver damage or pain after drinking alcohol, but these might be related with:
- Toxins found in the bacteria in the gut. Alcohol can kill off some of the bacteria residing in the gut so that the bacteria release toxins that need metabolizing in the liver. The toxins can damage the liver, leading to scarring of the liver and liver inflammation/pain.
- Oxidative stress. When the liver attempts to metabolize alcohol, the chemical reaction that occurs in this process can be harmful to liver cells. The liver will attempt to repair itself, resulting in scarring and inflammation of the liver tissue.
The problems listed above may lead to several different kinds of liver problems. You can get hepatitis of the liver (known as alcoholic hepatitis), fatty liver, and cirrhosis of the liver (scar tissue in the liver). At given point in time, a person can have all three of these conditions in the same liver, increasing the risk of liver pain after drinking.
1. Fatty Liver
When people drink a lot of alcohol, fatty tissue can build up inside the liver. This isn't usually a dangerous condition and you will not have pain after drinking. The fat in the liver will usually go away once you slow down on the drinking. If you continue to drink heavily, however, the condition inflames the liver and you get hepatitis.
2. Alcoholic Hepatitis
Hepatitis is liver inflammation that can be mild, moderate or severe. It may be completely asymptomatic and will only show up as an elevation of lever enzymes on a blood evaluation. If the hepatitis becomes chronic, it can lead to cirrhosis of the liver. The main symptoms of alcoholic hepatitis include the following:
- Jaundice, which is yellowing of the eyes and skin from an elevated level of bilirubin in the bloodstream
- Nausea and vomiting
- A general feeling of feeling ill
- Tenderness of the liver to touch or pain in the right upper quadrant of the abdomen
If the alcoholic hepatitis is too serious, it can result in liver failure. This leads to severe jaundice, confusion, coma, and blood clotting problems. Many times, it can be fatal.
3. Alcoholic Cirrhosis
This occurs when the liver tissue has been replaced by fibrotic tissue or scar tissue. This is usually a gradual process in which the scar tissue damages the liver cells and replaces normal liver cells. This can cause portal hypertension, which is high blood pressure in the abdominal blood vessels, because the blood is backed up by the scar tissue. Cirrhosis of the liver can result in end-stage liver failure. While there are no symptoms in the beginning, there can be the gradual onset of cirrhosis symptoms.
The main symptoms of liver cirrhosis are weight loss, pain and tenderness over the liver, nausea, vomiting, and ascites, which is the buildup of fluid in the abdomen. The abdomen becomes rounded because the blood backs up at the level of the liver and the abdomen becomes filled with liquid. The more your drink, the greater is your risk of having cirrhosis of the liver or alcoholic hepatitis. Cirrhosis, unlike hepatitis, cannot be reversed and the liver tends to be permanently impaired.
The following video is really helpful as it tells you how to know if the liver pain is a sign of alcoholic liver disease.
What to Do for Liver Pain After Drinking
If you realize that you have liver pain after your drink, you should seek the advice of your doctor for further evaluation and management. You will first need the following tests:
- Liver biopsy
- CBC (a complete blood count)
- Liver function studies, which will tell how severe the liver damage is
After the doctor does the tests, he or she will be able to tell you what kind of liver disease you have. The only real treatment for these conditions is to quit drinking alcohol for the rest of your life. If you have developed cirrhosis, this will likely remain unchanged, but the other conditions can resolve themselves without drinking.
You may need to eat a special diet in order to aid in the liver cell recovery after damage to them from alcohol. You may need to take a multivitamin. Attending some type of alcohol recovery therapy, such as inpatient treatment or attending alcoholics anonymous, is also needed. Many alcohol drinkers need these things because they are unable to quit drinking by themselves. There are medications you can take to help relieve the complications that have occurred because of your over-drinking. If no other treatment helps and the liver is severely damaged, having a liver transplant is your only choice.