"I haven't touched a drop for three years now" 

Six months of heavy drinking during a stressful period at work left Judith Heath with cirrhosis. She tells her story.

“I used to work as a practice manager for two GPs and found my job very stressful. I had problems with one of the doctors and became very stressed and anxious about going into work.

"I’d come home at night really wound up. It became a running joke that my husband would greet me at the door with a glass of wine. I drank heavily for six months, getting through a bottle-and-a-half of wine a night.

“Even though I didn’t know it then, I already had symptoms of liver failure. Towards the end of that six-month period I had swollen ankles, but just thought it was because I was on my feet all day.

"I was also being sick every day, but again I put that down to nerves and anxiety about work. I wasn’t eating much and didn’t feel hungry, but I carried on drinking every night.

“Eventually, my employer said he could smell alcohol on my breath. I was suspended for being drunk at work. He also said I had yellow eyes, so I went to see my own GP. He took one look at me and said, “I think you’ve got a liver problem because you’re so jaundiced.”

“They did some blood tests and found that I was very ill. I was rushed into hospital, which was really traumatic. I suddenly filled up with fluid in my arms, legs and midriff, and my blood wasn’t clotting, which really worried them.

“They told my husband that my liver wasn’t functioning and they didn’t know whether I would live or die. Finally, after six days on a drip, they said I was responding to the treatment, which had reduced the fluid in my body and brain.

“They did an ultrasound scan which showed that my liver was badly damaged and I had cirrhosis. I stayed in hospital for a month on diuretic tablets and a zero-fat, zero-salt diet, with no more than a half-pint of fluid a day.

“When I came home I’d lost three stone and looked like a skeleton, very gaunt and drawn. I had to stay on the restricted diet for 18 months and keep taking the diuretic tablets. I eventually started drinking soya milk to get some protein, and my weight went back up.

“I stopped drinking alcohol completely and haven’t touched a drop for three years now. Doctors thought I would need a liver transplant but, remarkably, it has regenerated and functions really well now.

"I have some nerve damage in my feet, called peripheral neuropathy, but apart from that I’m really well. My hair, nails and skin were in terrible shape, but they’re all in great condition now.

“I would advise anyone who thinks they're drinking too much and feels unwell to visit their GP immediately, to help cut down the drinking and get blood tests for your liver.

"My experience shows that your liver can deteriorate really fast – and there are very few early symptoms, so you could be really ill and not even know it.”




Page last reviewed: 15/04/2015

Next review due: 15/04/2017