So I realised when I read this news story that I hadn’t actually ever detailed the liver and transplantation on the blog! As reported by Alcohol Policy UK earlier this month: Liver transplants have been highlighted by an Eastenders storyline featuring Phil Mitchell (pictured as played by Steve McFadden) suffering with alcohol-related liver disease, reported the Express. The storyline has been praised by Sally Johnson, Director of Organ Donation and Transplantation for NHS Blood and Transplant, who said it had been portrayed responsibly. The Express followed up with the article Liver disease warning: How much damage are YOU doing to your vital organ?
So firstly lets look at how important the liver is and what function within the body it serves.
- fights infections and disease (which is why I struggled more with illness when I drank)
- destroys and deals with poisons and drugs (which alcohol is)
- filters and cleans the blood
- controls the amount of cholesterol
- produces and maintains the balance of hormones (hence why women get an increase in breast cancer rates with drinking and men get gynaecomastia, otherwise known as “man boobs” or “moobs”)
- produces chemicals – enzymes and other proteins – responsible for most of the chemical reactions in the body, for example , blood clotting and repairing tissue (which is why wound healing is slower)
- processes food once it has been digested (hence why alcoholics are very often severely malnourished)
- produces bile to help break down food in the gut (and why jaundice is an early sign of liver distress)
- stores energy that can be used rapidly when the body needs it most
- stores sugars, vitamins and minerals, including iron
- repairs damage and renews itself
So it is a major organ without which we die.
By the time you discover you need a transplant your liver might begin to fail and your quality of life may be very poor. You may have experienced the following symptoms:
- loss of appetite
- generally feeling unwell and being tired all the time
- feeling sick and being sick
- very itchy skin
- loss of weight and muscle wasting
- enlarged and tender liver (you may feel very tender below your right ribs)
- increased sensitivity to alcohol and drugs (medical and recreational)
- yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes (jaundice)
- swelling of the lower abdomen, or tummy (ascites), or the legs (peripheral oedema)
- fever with high temperatures and shivers, often caused by an infection
- vomiting blood
- dark black tarry stools (faeces) or pale stools, associated with cholestatic disease
- periods of mental confusion.
What is a liver transplant?
A liver transplant is an operation where your diseased liver is removed and replaced with a healthy donor human liver. Although liver transplants are now quite common, the operation is not undertaken lightly. It is a major operation and the body will always see the ‘new’ liver as a foreign agent and will try to destroy it. This means that if you have a liver transplant you will have to take medication for the rest of your life to stop your body rejecting the donor liver.
- kidney damage
- high blood pressure
- high cholesterol
- higher risk of infections
It may restrict your travel options in the future and you will carry a higher risk of skin cancer.
For further information visit: British Liver Trust
And if you want to study the liver further there is a MOOC run by the University of Birmingham you can do free online: Liver Disease: Looking after Your Liver
It is not a miracle cure or the answer to your drinking prayers. And those alcoholics who drink after receiving a donor liver leave me feeling very conflicted indeed – and yes I have met them ……