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Home arrow Education arrow 100 Questions & Answers About Alcoholism

Hematologic and Immune Systems

Alcohol is also toxic to the bone marrow or the hematological and immune systems both directly and indirectly through the various vitamin deficiencies that result from poor nutrition and alcohol's direct toxic effects to bone marrow itself. The hematological system produces and maintains red blood cells that carry oxygen throughout the body, white blood cells, or cells responsible for fighting infections and other foreign intruders, and various clotting factors that allow for blood to clot properly preventing excess blood loss. Anemia is the result of loss of red blood cells. Many types of anemias occur because of chronic alcoholism. Leukopenia (leuko is a root word for white, and penia is a root word for loss) is the medical term for loss of white blood cells, which can lead to an increase in infections and cancers because these cells are instrumental in fighting these ever-present threats. Leukopenia is an immune deficiency syndrome of which there are many causes, the most famous being AIDS. Alcohol can increase the risk of cancer not only by lowering the body's ability to fight off cancer cells but also causing cancer cells to grow through its direct toxic effects on the mouth, throat, larynx (voice box), and esophagus. Alcohol increases the risk of colon and rectal cancer in a manner not currently well understood. In women, the risk of breast cancer increases from as little as one drink daily.

Leukopenia a condition in which the number of leukocytes (white blood cells) circulating In the blood stream Is low, commonly due to a decrease in the production of new cells in conjunction with various infectious diseases, drug reactions, other chemical reactions, or radiation therapy.

Musculoskeletal System

Just as alcohol has a direct toxic effect on heart muscle, it also has a direct toxic effect on skeletal muscle, causing a condition known as alcoholic myopathy. The toxic effects of alcohol can cause skeletal muscle to breakdown. When muscle tissue breaks down at a rapid rate, the muscle proteins clog the kidneys in their attempt to eliminate them from the body, which in turn can lead to kidney (renal) failure. Slow muscle breakdown can lead to weakness and fatigue over time. Myopathy can also occur from alcohol's indirect effects on one's nutritional status and from resulting endocrine abnormalities. Alcohol can also impact bone density and growth, causing osteopenia (remember the root "penia" for decreasing) and hastening osteoporosis, leading to an increased risk of fractures or broken bones.

Myopathy a disorder of the muscle tissue, typically causing wasting and weakness.

Hyponatremia low blood sodium.

Hypokalemia low blood potassium.

Hypomagnesemia low blood magnesium.

Hypocalcemia low blood calcium.

Hypophosphatemia low blood phosphorous.

Parathyroid hormone a hormone produced by the parathyroid gland that is next to the thyroid.

ACTH Adrenocorticotropic Hormone. A hormone released by the pituitary gland, which stimulates the adrenal glands to release adrenalin.

Prolactin a hormone found in the anterior lobe of the pituitary that Induces and maintains lactation during the postpartum period in a female.

Genitourinary/Endocrine Systems and Metabolism

Heavy alcohol consumption is never more devastating than when it plays havoc on the body's metabolism. Because of alcohol's chronic and pernicious effects on various organ systems, the body is exceptionally vulnerable to various assaults that can occur metabolically.

Insulin Sensitivity

Both alcohol intoxication and withdrawal can affect insulin sensitivity, resulting in dangerously high or low blood sugars. This, in turn, can impact other metabolic functions that lead to electrolyte abnormalities such as low sodium (hyponatremia), low potassium (hypokalemia), low magnesium (hypomagnesemia), low calcium (hypocalcemia), and low phosphorus (hypophosphatemia). Additionally, endocrine abnormalities can occur. Parathyroid hormone, insulin, ACTH, prolactin, cortisol, and growth hormone levels may all be altered. Sex hormones (such as testosterone, estrogen, and progesterone) levels may lead to sexual dysfunction and infertility with chronic heavy alcohol use.

Alcoholics frequently come to the emergency room with intractable nausea and vomiting, accompanied by extreme abdominal pain. They usually are unable to eat or drink anything for several days, and as a result, their last alcoholic drink will have been several days previous to their presentation. They are is malnourished and vulnerable to infection, and their liver, pancreas, heart, and immune systems are all compromised. Alcoholics are anemic; however, more critical is that the alcoholic now has dangerously low electrolytes, including potassium, sodium, magnesium, calcium, and phosphorus in addition to blood sugar. This person is beginning to withdraw from alcohol, demonstrating a rapid heart rate and high blood pressure. He or she may also be disoriented to time and place and may be hearing and seeing things that are not there. Correcting his or her electrolytes becomes urgent, particularly when it comes to sodium. This leads to a delicate balancing act. Failure to correct the sodium can lead to cerebral edema, a buildup of fluid in the brain; brain damage occurs because of the increased pressure pushing the brain against the skull and other support structures, eventually leading to seizures and death. Correcting the sodium too rapidly can lead to a condition known as central pontine myelinolysis, which is a loss of white matter in the brain known as myelin that is critical for nerves to function correctly. The myelin in the brain literally dissolves, leading to brain damage and possibly death.

Cortisol also called hydrocortisone. It Is derived from cortisone and Is also used to treat inflammatory conditions, Including arthritis.

Growth hormone secreted by the pituitary gland and regulates growth.

Cerebral edema swelling of the brain because of an abnormal accumulation of fluid.

Central pontine myelinolysis disintegration of the myelin sheath In the pons that Is associated with malnutrition, most often due to alcoholism.

 
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