Harmful Effects of Alcohol
Since one blog is insufficient to list all the harmful effects of alcohol this is in continuation of the previous blog. In the previous blog I had listed all the harmful effects of alcohol on the Central Nervous System. But since alcohol is drunk the most harmful effects are on the gastrointestinal tract. However, I have seen one patient who used to inject alcohol when he was unable to drink it because of vomiting, but that was an exception. Mostly alcohol is drunk, In the esophagus or food pipe it causes heartburn, which has got nothing to do with the heart but a burning sensation in the chest because of acid reflux from the stomach. Because of alcohol the cardiac sphincter of the stomach becomes loose and the acid present in the stomach is able to come into the mouth also. The lining of stomach is used to this concentrated Hydrochloric acid but the lining of the food pipe is not and it literally gets burnt as a result of the acid reflux causing pain in the chest called heartburn. There may be sour eructations also present. Because of vomiting alcohol can also cause Mallory Weiss Syndrome which is nothing but a tear in the mucosa of the food pipe and is a medical emergency. In the stomach, it causes an increase in the secretion of Hydrochloric acid. In fact to diagnose acholorydia – a condition in which there is a congenital absence of the secretion of Hydrochloric acid, a little alcohol is given through the nasogastric tube to ascertain the diagnosis. The increased acid may cause gastritis. Small quantities of alcohol increase the appetite but large quantities can suppress it totally. Some alcoholics only drink and I frequently see patients who have not eaten for days. The next main organ to suffer from the harmful effects of alcohol is the pancreas. Pancreas are an important organ of digestion and glucose metabolism. It has an endocrine part which secrete insulin and glucagon and an exocrine part which secretes digestive juices to digest proteins and fats. Acute pancreatitis is a very painful condition and one of the main causes is alcohol intake. It is not dose dependent,i.e., if a person is a heavy drinker it is not that it is more likely to occur. It can occur even in moderate drinkers. Repeated attacks of acute pancreatitis can lead to chronic pancreatitis which can lead to diabetes due to the scarring of the pancreas. There is a condition called acute hemorrhagic pancreatitis in which the pancreas burst and all the secretions go into the abdomen. It is the most painful condition known to medical science. The digestive juices of the pancreas start digesting the lining of the abdomen from inside. It is as if a piece of metal is being eaten by acid corrosion. It is a medical emergency in which the pain is the most important feature. On a scale of 1-10, if the pain of a lady giving birth for the first time is 9 then the pain of acute hemorrhagic pancreatitis is 10. The pain is so severe that the person goes into shock because of the pain itself. Alcohol can cause or aggravate IBS, i.e., irritable bowel syndrome. IBS is a chronic and debilitating disease which can be quite uncomfortable. But the organ most affected by alcohol intake is the liver. Liver is a very important organ doing a lot of functions which are essential for good health. It is a well known fact that the liver of alcoholics gets affected in a bad way. You don’t have to be a doctor to know that. But liver has tremendous capacity to heal itself also. If in a healthy person you cut off the entire liver and leave a matchbox size portion, it will grow back, provided you don’t insult it on a daily basis by drinking alcohol. The condition which occurs in liver because of drinking is called cirrhosis. There are many causes of cirrhosis but alcoholic liver disease is chief cause of cirrhosis. Cirrhosis is a morphological diagnosis, that is to say, the diagnosis is made by observing the liver. In olden days dead bodies were dissected to know about the anatomy of the body and its parts. They found that the liver of alcoholics was gnarled and lumpy and in many cases shrunk. These days we make the diagnosis ultrasonically.
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