Understanding Cirrhosis

cirrhosis

About 1 in 400 Americans is diagnosed with Cirrhosis of the liver.

Cirrhosis is a condition in which the liver develops scars as it tries to repair itself from long-term damage. This condition cannot be cured, but it can be treated. The earlier the condition is identified, the better the chances of successful treatment.

Meet your liver

Your liver is part of your digestive system. It does a lot of important things for your body:

  • filters toxins (poisons) from your blood — this can include alcohol and bacteria
  • stores sugar and vitamins for later use
  • makes enzymes that help digest food, including fats and cholesterol
  • helps fight off infections
  • makes blood-clotting proteins

If the liver gets damaged, it tries to repair itself. Scars develop and take the place of healthy liver tissue. Eventually, this keeps the liver from functioning correctly. 

Causes of Cirrhosis

Cirrhosis is caused by the liver’s attempts to repair itself. It is the problem of scar tissue on the liver, and it is usually the result of years of liver damage. If you have liver disease and catch it early, you may be able to slow down the progression of Cirrhosis.

One common cause of Cirrhosis is alcoholism. The liver filters out toxins, and alcohol is one of those. Too much alcohol puts too much stress on the liver and leads to liver damage.

An increasingly frequent cause of Cirrhosis is nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. This is associated with obesity and diabetes. It is now the most common liver disease in the United States, affecting about 20% of the adult population and 10% of children.

Hepatitis B or hepatitis C can also lead to Cirrhosis. These are chronic liver infections caused by a virus. These diseases can be spread through sexual inercourse, contaminated needles, or exposure to contaminated blood.

Cystic fibrosis, heart failure, and less common diseases that damage the liver can also lead to Cirrhosis. Any condition that damages the liver can cause Cirrhosis.

Symptoms of Cirrhosis

The symptoms of Cirrhosis may be hard to recognize early on. Fatigue, a feeling of weakness, itchy skin, and loss of appetite may be the first symptoms. These are not actually early symptoms, though, since it is normal not to have any symptoms until a lot of damage has been done over many years.

Since the liver is not functioning well, it can leave its owner more vulnerable to toxins and less able to use nutrients.

As the disease progresses, more symptoms can show up. These can include swelling in the feet or legs, a buildup of fluid in the abdomen, yellow skin and eyes (jaundice), easy bruising or bleeding, confusion and memory loss, and pain are among the possible symptoms. 

A gastroenterologist will look for signs like red palms, shrunken testicles, and red spider veins on skin. Cirrhosis is identified by blood tests and sometimes imaging tests like ultrasound.

Treatment of Cirrhosis

Cirrhosis cannot be cured. It is a condition involving permanent damage to the liver.

However, treatment can slow the progress of the disease, improve quality of life, and reduce the chance of complications.

The treatment of Cirrhosis depends on the causes. Usually, the patient is asked to make some lifestyle changes:

  • stop drinking alcohol
  • quit smoking, if they smoke
  • switch to a healthy low-fat eating plan like the Mediterranean diet
  • get regular exercise

If hepatitis is the cause, there are medications that can help. There may also be medications that can relieve some of the symptoms of the disease. A liver transplant is also a treatment. If you are concerned about Cirrhosis, you should plan to see a gastroenterologist.