Last week we looked at hepatitis C and discussed the different ways the virus can be transmitted. Hepatitis means inflammation of the liver. Inflammation is the body’s normal response to an injury, regardless of the cause of the injury. Hepatitis can be caused by infections, chemicals and many other diseases. The liver is a large organ of the gastrointestinal system in the upper abdomen and has many functions. One of the main roles is the removal of toxic substances from the body by the liver cells. One effect of an inflamed liver can be bile leaking from the liver cells. If severe enough, this can cause jaundice, a yellow discolouration of the skin, eyes and urine.

Of course, the liver is also the main organ in the body responsible for removing alcohol from the bloodstream (at the rate of about one standard drink per hour for a healthy liver). When someone is diagnosed with the disease they are often advised to take adequate rest, maintain a light balanced diet and to avoid alcohol. For many people, a change to their alcohol intake is often the most significant alteration they have to make to their lifestyle after their diagnosis.

What we know about hepatitis C is constantly changing but currently we believe 20-25 percent of adults recover completely. The virus leaves their system and they are no longer infectious. Seventy-five to 80 percent retain the virus, developing a long-term (chronic) infection and are able to transmit the virus to others. Some people develop symptoms of liver disease, including tiredness, lethargy, nausea, headaches, depression, aches and pains in joints and muscles, and discomfort in the upper abdomen area. It is believed that possibly 10 percent of chronic carriers are at risk of developing serious liver illness, such as cirrhosis, liver failure or liver cancer. Hepatitis C is now the most common reason for liver transplantation.

Alcohol has an additive effect on the development of all of these problems -“ in fact alcohol itself can be a cause of liver inflammation. As a result, alcohol should be reduced to two standard drinks or less per day. If cirrhosis or any other liver disease is already present, complete abstinence from alcohol is recommended.

Here are some practical tips to assist someone who may have hepatitis C (or anyone else who feels they would like to cut back their drinking a little) on how to manage their alcohol consumption.

Avoid binge drinking (i.e. drinking to get drunk). Always start the evening with a non-alcoholic drink. The first drink you have will usually be used to quench your thirst and will be downed faster than any of the subsequent drinks. Alternate usual drinks with alcohol-free or low-alcohol drinks. Don’t buy in rounds. You’ll always find yourself matching others’ drinking patterns rather than setting your own.

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