We had a very early AM meeting with the doctors treating C's dad. He has cirrhosis of the liver. Although he hasn't had a drink in years, his liver was likely compromised from contracting hepatitis and malaria during his war time duties in the Pacific. Alcohol consumption for most of his life further added to stress on the liver. The amount of alcohol it takes to damage the liver varies greatly from person to person. For women, consuming two to three drinks—including beer and wine—per day and for men, three to four drinks per day, can lead to liver damage and cirrhosis.
The bleeding that he has been experiencing is caused by esophageal varices. As the liver works harder to process the bodies toxins, blood pressure builds in the hepatic portal system. Normally, blood from the intestines and spleen is carried to the liver through the portal vein. But cirrhosis slows the normal flow of blood, which increases the pressure in the portal vein. When pressure builds in the hepatic portal system, it may cause enlarged blood vessels in the esophagus, called varices. He has a number of varices that are banded every time he goes into the hospital. The enlarged blood vessels burst from the thin walls of the esophagus and increased pressure. When this happens, there is serious bleeding that can result in death if not treated immediately.
We did not know that he had cirrhosis until yesterday. He was a heavy drinker for much of his life, tapering off as he got older. Not too many years ago, he was in danger of developing type 2 diabetes and was told to change his diet and to cut out alcohol consumption. He did that with no problem.
I explained this to a friend last night who said, "Well, the liquor finally got him at age 90." (There is actually a joke about this but will save that for another time). When I think about someone in their forties or fifties with cirrhosis and dying from internal bleeding, I realize how fortunate my father-in-law is that he has made it to age 90. Now we know that at his age, there isn't much that can be done other than to treat each emergency as it occurs.
But for those who are still out there drinking alcoholically, there is still time.