Liver Cirrhosis occurs when unhealthy scar tissue replaces healthy tissue as a result of late-stage liver disease.
There are several common causes of liver cirrhosis, including alcohol use disorder, fatty-liver disease, and hepatitis. Cirrhosis is not curable, and often causes permanent damage to the organ that can be fatal.
The condition is most common in adults between the ages of 45 and 54, with research suggesting that about 1 in 400 adults in the United States have cirrhosis, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.
What is Cirrhosis of the Liver?
Cirrhosis is the build up of scar tissue on the liver that keeps the organ from functioning properly. A diseased liver leads to cell death and inflammation, which is then followed by cell repair. It is the process during the repair phase that leads to scarring on the liver.
The accumulation of scar tissue restricts the flow of blood through the liver and slows the organ’s ability to process nutrients, drugs, hormones, and natural toxins.
The buildup of scar tissue also causes the liver to lose its ability to create proteins and other substances needed for healthy functioning.
It’s important to understand that cirrhosis of the liver is the result of late-stage liver disease. So, by the time a person receives a diagnosis of cirrhosis, the liver has not been healthy for a significant amount of time.
Liver Cirrhosis Causes
There are a number of different causes of cirrhosis of the liver, but one of the most common by a wide margin is chronic, long-term alcohol abuse.
Some data suggests that the risk of liver cirrhosis increases with any alcohol consumption for women, and for men who consume more than one alcoholic drink a day.
Typically though, alcohol-induced cirrhosis is the result of many years of excessive drinking.
Other cirrhosis causes can include:
- Fatty liver disease, which is associated with obesity and diabetes referred to as nonalcoholic steatohepatitis or nonalcoholic fatty liver disease
- Chronic viral infections, such as hepatitis B and hepatitis C
- Autoimmune hepatitis can cause liver damage when the body’s immune system attacks healthy liver tissue
- Chronic heart failure can also damage the organ by causing fluid to back up in the liver
There are other diseases that can damage the liver and ultimately lead to cirrhosis, but the changes in the liver that lead to cirrhosis are gradual. When liver cells start to die from the disease, it’s scar tissue that replaces those cells, which leads to cirrhosis.
Complicating the matter is that the symptoms of the cirrhosis can easily be mistaken for symptoms of dozens of other illnesses.
Liver Cirrhosis Symptoms
In the early stages of liver cirrhosis, a person may not exhibit any symptoms. But as liver function becomes worse, other more commonly recognizable symptoms will start to appear.
It is worth noting that many of the cirrhosis of the liver symptoms are painful and can lead to chronic, lasting discomfort.
Some of the early symptoms of liver damage from cirrhosis can include:
- Feeling weak, tired, or generally exhausted
- Loss of appetite, leading to unexpected weight loss
More advanced cirrhosis symptoms may include:
- Jaundice, which is a yellow tint to the skin and the whites of the eyes
- Swelling in the legs, feet, and ankles
- Increased bruising and bleeding
- Redness in the palm of the hand, spider-like blood vessels that surround red spots on the skin
- Light colored stool or blood in the stool
- A brownish or orange color to urine
- Buildup of fluid in the stomach
- Loss of libido, enlarged breasts, and shrunken testicles in men
- Premature menopause in women
- Memory loss, difficulty concentrating, confusion, and personality changes
The condition can also lead to dozens of other complications, and life-threatening problems such as liver failure, malnutrition, and serious infection.
In some cases, these complications are the first signs that appear when a person is suffering from cirrhosis of the liver.
Liver Cirrhosis Treatments
It’s important to understand that anyone who is diagnosed with cirrhosis is already in the late stages of liver disease.
While there is no cure, liver cirrhosis treatment approaches will depend on the underlying causes that lead to the condition.
Usually the goal is to slow further liver damage, prevent complications, and treat the general symptoms caused by the condition so a person is more comfortable.
For those battling alcohol-related liver disease, seeking professional alcohol treatment to stop drinking is one of the very first steps to take.
It is imperative that a person quits the use of alcohol and only then can physicians begin to address other the symptoms and complications caused by cirrhosis.
For cirrhosis caused by Hepatitis B or Hepatitis C, there are a number of approved antiviral medications for the treatment of those conditions.
Individuals diagnosed with nonalcoholic fatty liver disease will be advised to start a weight management program, get regular exercise, and follow a healthy, well-balanced diet.
While it’s not possible to get rid of the permanent damage caused by cirrhosis, treatments may help delay or stop the progression of scar tissue, which can help reduce the complications associated with scarring of the liver.
Understanding that excessive or prolonged drinking may lead to liver cirrhosis is a motivating factor for many people to make the decision to quit drinking.
Unfortunately it can be difficult to give up alcohol without professional help, but if liver damage has not occurred yet, this is a positive way to prevent it from happening in the future.
Any form of addiction treatment should begin with an alcohol detox program to comfortably overcome the withdrawal process. Once detox has been completed, treatment for alcohol addiction will be more effective to ensure a successful recovery.
Photo Credit: Liver Cirrhosis image by myUpchar