Royal Free London NHS Foundation Trust
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The Sheila Sherlock Liver Centre
The Sheila Sherlock Liver Centre for liver transplant and liver medicine

Liver medicine and translplant - Alcohol damage

Alcohol is virtually poisonous to liver cells and a lot of people traumatise and abuse their livers on a regular basis, usually through drinking alcohol. But the liver is a remarkable organ because, despite this self-inflicted harm, it's very resilient, using its powers of regeneration when necessary.

Not everyone who drinks too much alcohol will develop liver damage. Sheila Sherlock Liver Centre: A nurse assesses alcohol damageIt is still unclear why this occurs to certain people but there is some evidence that it could be due in part to a combination of factors including a genetic susceptibility. Consistent heavy drinking can lead to a ‘fatty’ liver in which your liver cells become swollen with excess fat. More seriously it may cause an inflamed liver condition known as alcoholic hepatitis or, ultimately, a permanently scarred and damaged liver – cirrhosis.

Although damaged liver cells are able to repair themselves and the liver can, to a great extent, re-grow itself, there comes a point when the damage becomes irreversible and the normal structure of the liver is lost and replaced with scar tissue (a process called fibrosis).

page last reviewed: 25 January 2010