Cirrhosis of the Liver (Hepatic Cirrhosis)
Cirrhosis is a medical condition that affects the liver, one of the most vital organs in our body. The liver performs many essential functions, including detoxifying harmful substances in your body, cleaning your blood, and making vital nutrients. When someone has cirrhosis, their healthy liver tissue is replaced with scar tissue. This change results in the liver being permanently damaged and unable to perform its functions effectively.
What Causes Cirrhosis of the Liver?
There are different reasons why cirrhosis can develop. Many types of liver diseases and conditions can injure healthy liver cells, leading to inflammation and cell death. This damage then triggers a repair process that, unfortunately, results in scar tissue formation. Over time, as more and more scar tissue forms, the structure of the liver changes, making it harder for the liver to function.
1. One of the leading causes of cirrhosis is long-term alcohol abuse. Alcohol can damage or destroy liver cells, and the chronic abuse of alcohol forces the liver to try to repair itself, leading to the cycle of damage and repair that causes cirrhosis. However, alcohol is not the only cause.
2. Chronic viral infections like hepatitis B and C can also lead to cirrhosis. Sometimes, a genetic disorder such as Wilson's disease or hemochromatosis can be the culprit. The body has trouble processing certain elements in these conditions, leading to liver damage.
3. Cirrhosis can also be caused by nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), where fat builds up in the liver. This can lead to nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), a more serious form of NAFLD, which causes inflammation and may result in cirrhosis.
4. Other causes include autoimmune hepatitis, where the body's immune system attacks the liver, and diseases that damage or block the bile ducts, like primary biliary cirrhosis and primary sclerosing cholangitis.
What Are the Symptoms?
The symptoms of cirrhosis often depend on the extent of the liver damage. In the early stages, a person might not experience any symptoms. As the disease progresses, symptoms might include fatigue, loss of appetite, weight loss, and nausea. As liver function worsens, more serious symptoms can develop. These can include jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes), itching, and an increased tendency to bruise or bleed.
One of the more serious complications of cirrhosis is an increase in pressure within the vein that brings blood to the liver (known as portal hypertension). This can lead to swelling in the legs (edema) and abdomen (ascites). In severe cases, it can cause varices, which are enlarged veins in the esophagus or stomach that can bleed.
Diagnosing cirrhosis involves a combination of medical history, physical examination, and tests. Blood tests can check for signs of liver damage and help identify the cause of cirrhosis. Imaging tests like ultrasound, CT scan, or MRI can show the size and shape of the liver and reveal any areas of damage. In some cases, a liver biopsy might be needed, where a small sample of liver tissue is taken and examined under a microscope.
The treatment for cirrhosis depends on the cause and extent of the liver damage. The first step is usually to treat the underlying cause of the cirrhosis. For example, if alcohol abuse is the cause, the person must stop drinking. If a chronic viral infection like hepatitis is the cause, then antiviral medications might be used. In addition to treating the underlying cause, there are treatments to manage the symptoms and complications of cirrhosis. Medications can help control symptoms like itching and ascites. If varices are present, drugs can be used to reduce the risk of bleeding.
In some cases, procedures might be needed to control bleeding from varices. In advanced cases of cirrhosis, when the liver stops working properly, a liver transplant may be the only treatment option. A liver transplant is a procedure to replace your liver with a healthy liver from a deceased donor or with part of a liver from a living donor. Cirrhosis is one of the most common reasons for a liver transplant.
Living with cirrhosis can be challenging, but with the proper treatment and lifestyle changes, many people with the condition can lead a full and active life. Working closely with your healthcare team to manage your condition and maintain your quality of life is essential. In conclusion, cirrhosis is a serious but manageable condition. Understanding the causes and treatments of cirrhosis is the first step toward managing this disease.
Center For Digestive Health & Nutrition
The Center for Digestive Health & Nutrition is a private medical practice comprised of experienced Gastroenterologists, Nurse Practitioners, and staff members dedicated to preventing and treating digestive disorders. Our physicians have been serving the needs of those in Western Pennsylvania and surrounding areas since 1977, having cared for tens of thousands of individuals with digestive problems. Our mission is to deliver high-quality gastroenterology services efficiently and cost-consciously. We realize the very sensitive nature of GI illness and understand the necessity to provide our services in an environment that stresses patient privacy and confidentiality and where patient satisfaction is the goal. Appointments can be conveniently scheduled online via our website above. Learn more about digestive issues on Instagram @thedigestivetract
DISCLAIMER : The information on this website is to provide general information. The information on this website does NOT reflect definitive medical advice, and self-diagnoses should not be made based on information obtained online. It is important to consult a physician for a consultation and examination regarding ANY and ALL symptoms or signs as they may signify a serious illness or condition. An accurate diagnosis and treatment plan should only be made by a qualified doctor to exclude a serious condition.