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What is cirrhosis

Cirrhosis of the liver is a condition that arises due to complications related to other liver disorders.

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The liver tissue becomes scarred and the normal structure is destroyed. The scar or fibrous tissue hampers the normal functioning of the liver.

What are the functions of the liver in the body

The liver plays an important role in food digestion, metabolism of drugs, formation of proteins as well as enzymes that help in clotting blood.

Liver also helps in detoxifying the impurities of the blood.

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When liver no longer performs its normal functions efficiently, it leads to many complications as well as death. Let us have a look at cirrhosis of liver to know more about this debilitating condition.

What are the Causes of Cirrhosis?

Cirrhosis is a condition where the liver tissue is scarred due to the effects of a chronic liver disease or long-term damage. The fibrous tissues starts blocking the normal blood flow through the liver leading to symptoms of cirrhosis. There are many causes of liver cirrhosis.

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Some of the major causes of cirrhosis of the liver include:

  • Chronic alcoholism is the main cause of liver cirrhosis
  • Viral infection such as Hepatitis B, C and D, especially infection by Hepatitis C virus
  • Fatty liver diseases due to obesity and diabetes
  • Primary biliary cirrhosis that causes blockage, scarring and inflammation of the bile ducts
  • Autoimmune chronic active hepatitis where the immune system starts attacking and destroying normal liver cells
  • Genetic and inherited diseases such as cystic fibrosis, Wilson’s disease, Alpha 1 antitrypsin deficiency, etc. lead to cirrhosis
  • Galactosema where the body is unable to digest milk sugars
  • Parasitic infection such as schistosomiasis

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Symptoms of Cirrhosis of Liver

The signs and symptoms of cirrhosis depend on the damage occurred to the liver. During the early stages of the disease, there may not be any symptoms. As the disease progresses, one may start experiencing some or most of the following symptoms:

  • Fatigue
  • Weakness
  • Lethargy
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea
  • Weight loss
  • Unexplained bruising
  • Easily bleeding due to a minor cut or injury
  • Fluid retention in stomach
  • Swelling of the legs
  • Confusion and thinking difficulty due to presence of toxins in blood
  • Enlarged veins
  • Jaundice, causing whites of the eyes, skin and nails to appear yellow
  • Developing gallstones
  • Severe itching on the body

In the advanced stage, the liver completely loses its ability to filter poisonous substances in the blood. This affects the brain and leads to altered brain function. The patient may suffer from drowsiness, confusion as well as fainting spells. At times, it leads to coma.

Who is at Risk of Developing Cirrhosis?

Excessive alcohol consumption or alcoholism is one of the major factors that contributes towards developing cirrhosis. People who have developed Hepatitis B or Hepatitis C infection are also at risk. Other than this, people with inherited diseases, autoimmune disorders, as well as metabolic disorders are at risk of developing cirrhosis.

Diagnosis of Cirrhosis of Liver

Liver cirrhosis is diagnosed with the help of blood tests, ultrasound tests, liver biopsy as well as with the help of a specialized test called radioisotope liver/spleen scan.

Treatment of Cirrhosis of Liver

There is no cure for liver cirrhosis. However, there are various treatments available that help in delaying the progress of the disease as well as reducing the symptoms. The treatments usually depend on the cause of the disease. These treatments include:

  • People with drinking issues are asked to stop drinking completely. Many are advised to visit an addiction center to get rid of their drinking habit.
  • Hepatitis infection is treated using medications that help in controlling the damage that occurs in the liver.
  • Excessive fluid retention in the body is controlled using diuretics or water pills. At times medical procedures are advised to drain out the excessive fluid.
  • Laxatives are advised to help with passage of bowels and reduce the toxins in the body.
  • Blood pressure medications are given to control the pressure in the veins and prevent them from severe bleeding.
  • End stage liver cirrhosis patients are advised liver transplant surgery.

Prevention of Liver Cirrhosis

Liver cirrhosis can be prevented if one drinks alcohol in limit. Avoid drinking alcohol if you know liver damage has occurred. Avoid unprotected sex as well as sharing needles for injecting drugs. This increases the chances of Hepatitis B or C infection. One can always get vaccinated against Hepatitis B. Eat a healthy diet rich in vegetables and fruits. One should eat a low sodium diet to lower fluid retention in the body.

The survival rate of patients with liver cirrhosis after 5 years of diagnosis is a dismissal 30%. The outlook tends to worsen, if the patient does not stop drinking. A vast majority of the patients requires a liver transplant for survival. Thus, maintain a healthy lifestyle and make sure you stop abusing your liver. Once the liver stops functioning, it will affect every organ of your body leading to many health complications.

Written by: Saptakee sengupta Date last updated: February 2, 2015

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