How Long Can I Live with Alcoholic Liver Disease?

Advance Alcoholic LIver Disease Can Be Fatal

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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. There are, however, a few studies that give us an idea of the mortality rate of alcoholic cirrhosis.

Heavy Drinking May Lead to Cirrhosis

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 might.

Risks Associated with Alcoholic Liver Disease

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 Rates for Advanced Alcoholic Cirrhosis

For a group of Norwegian patients with advanced cirrhosis of the liver, the mortality rates were extremely high. This is according to a long-term study published in the Scandinavian Journal of Gastroenterology.

Researchers followed 100 patients with alcoholic liver cirrhosis who drank at least 3 1/2 ounces of alcohol per day for about 16 years.

None of the patients received a liver transplant and the results show 90 percent of them died by the end of the 15-year study. The rates of death for patients with a diagnosis of advanced alcoholic cirrhosis after a specific number of years are as follows:

  • after 5 years, 71 percent had died
  • after 10 years, 84 percent had died
  • after 15 years, 90 percent had died

The death rates for patients with a diagnosis of advanced alcoholic cirrhosis after a specific number of months are as follows:

  • 18 percent after 1 month
  • 28 percent after 3 months
  • 36 percent after 6 months
  • 49 percent after 12 months

Keep in mind that this is only one clinical study of 100 patients and the information you read here may not apply to your specific case. Your personal prognosis is based on many factors that only you and your physician know about.

Symptoms of Alcoholic Liver Disease

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.

    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 in this late stage will require a liver transplant.

    Sources:

    Bell, et al. Scandinavian Journal of Gastroenterology: Long-term prognosis of patients with alcoholic liver cirrhosis: a 15-year follow-up study of 100 Norwegian patients admitted to one unit. (2004)

    U.S. National Library of Medicine. Medline Plus: Alcoholic Liver Disease. 2015.

    O'Shea R, Dasarathy S, McCullough AJ. Alcoholic Liver Disease. American College of Gastroenterology. 2010; 105:14–32; doi:10.1038/ajg.2009.593

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