Ask a Doctor: Is drinking too much alcohol the cause of liver disease?

Medical doctor with a stethoscope around his neck holding

Q. I've been told I could have liver disease. Is drinking too much alcohol the main cause?

A. While most people believe that the main cause of liver disease is alcoholism, it is only the third leading cause. Controlling your consumption of alcohol is important, yet there are other factors to take into account.

The leading cause of liver disease is diabetes. Over 50% of patients with Type 2 diabetes have a fatty liver and some form of liver damage.

The second leading cause is obesity. Those with Type 2 diabetes or a body mass index over 30 have a higher risk of developing a fatty liver, and approximately a third of these patients have some form of liver damage. Most patients do not show any symptoms during the early stages of liver disease. Symptoms usually develop during the advanced stages of liver disease and cirrhosis of the liver.

There are two non-invasive methods to check your liver health: a blood test and a fibro-scan. The signs to look for when it comes to liver disease are abnormal blood work and abnormal liver enzymes. Other things you can look for are swelling or edema of the lower extremity, bruising, right upper quadrant pain and unexplainable fatigue.

Ultrasound or CT scan imaging of the abdomen can show an enlarged liver, enlarged spleen or fatty liver. They would be reasons to get a further evaluation of your liver health. If you have a family history of liver disease or are concerned about your liver health, please talk to your primary care provider.

Dr. Chirag Patel is a hepatology specialist with Galen Hepatology and a member of the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Medical Society.

photo Dr. Chirag Patel / Photo courtesy the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Medical Society