'I got cirrhosis at 34'

After years of drinking at what he thought were normal levels, Andy Ball was diagnosed with the liver disease cirrhosis.

"I don’t have a history of alcoholism in my family and I had a normal relationship with alcohol. It was never taboo. As I got older, though, it became apparent I could drink more than other people.

"At teenage parties, I'd turn up with four cans of beer and after three cans other kids would be getting merry, but I'd be thinking, 'I just feel the same as before'. So I started having a few cans before I went to parties, and then stronger stuff as I got older.

"I started drinking more heavily around the age of 17, the last year of my A-levels. I would drink every day. But again, I didn’t think it was a problem. I had four close mates, and I was aware that we drank more than other people. I wasn’t a nasty drunk, I rarely lost my temper and I never got into trouble over alcohol.

"I got four A-levels and started university, and no one commented on my drinking. I was doing weight training and exercise so I didn’t really look like I had a problem. I could drink half a bottle of vodka and nobody would know.

"But by the time I left university I was beginning to feel unwell. I gave up playing rugby and went to the doctor because I was getting pains in my gut. I had what’s called a fatty liver, which can progress to hepatitis and cirrhosis. But because my health was OK for the next few years, I continued drinking.

'I turned yellow'

The NHS recommends:

  • Men should not regularly drink more than 3-4 units of alcohol a day
  • Women should not regularly drink more than 2-3 units a day
  • If you've had a heavy drinking session, avoid alcohol for 48 hours

    "Regularly" means drinking this amount every day or most days of the week.

    "In 2001 I became very sick. I literally turned yellow and my hair started falling out. My nails went translucent and I looked just like a hollow lemon. 

    "I was admitted to hospital and told that I had cirrhosis. I’ve also got a condition known as portal hypertension (very high blood pressure in the large veins that take blood to my liver) because my rigid liver can’t process my blood fast enough.

    "The most dangerous thing is that I have swellings in my throat called varices, which are caused by the high pressure in the vein that transports blood from the gut to the liver. If one of them bursts I could die.

    "I haven’t had a drink since I went into hospital. It was annoyingly easy to give up drinking, because I wasn’t really much of an alcoholic. I was just drinking a huge amount.

    "My liver is quite delicate. I have to eat healthily and take care of myself. I also have to take beta blockers and go to the hospital fairly regularly to check that my varices are OK.

    "People do live in denial about the amount they drink. A lot of us are alcohol-dependent to some extent because few of us would choose to socialise without a drink in our hand. But if you continue drinking at a high level, you could end up where I am.” 

    Liver disease

    Alcoholic liver disease is a range of conditions and associated symptoms that develop when the liver becomes damaged due to alcohol misuse. In this video, consultant hepatologist Mark Wright talks about how avoiding alcohol can help those with the condition.

    Media last reviewed: 03/05/2016

    Next review due: 03/05/2018

    Page last reviewed: 24/10/2014

    Next review due: 24/10/2016


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    Media last reviewed: 07/08/2014

    Next review due: 07/08/2017

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