Liver is one of the most important organs of the human body as it performs some vital functions such as blood purification, vitamins & sugar storage and bile production. When someone is suffering from a chronic liver disease, scarring is seen on their liver which is termed cirrhosis. In most cases, cirrhosis occurs due to alcohol abuse and viral infections. As compared to women, men are most likely to get affected by this disease. A lot of people confuse cirrhosis with other liver ailments. If you don’t know what cirrhosis exactly is, read this article. You’ll find its causes, symptoms, risks and treatment here.
A brief about Liver Cirrhosis
According to Dr. Reema Kashiv, Senior Physician from Noble Hospital in Pune, "Liver cirrhosis is a chronic liver damage condition. It can happen due to different reasons. Liver is an important organ in the body. It makes enzymes that help us digest our food and filter toxins from our blood. Hence it is crucial that any type of chronic liver disease should be diagnosed early. If the cause of liver cirrhosis is diagnosed early you can prevent it from getting worse by starting the right treatment."
"The patient may experience fatigue, loss of appetite, weight loss, nausea, pain in the abdomen, etc. Chronic alcohol abuse; chronic liver hepatitis B, C and D; non-alcoholic fatty liver disease; cystic fibrosis; iron built-up in the body, etc. are some of the prominent different causes for liver cirrhosis. One should not drink alcohol if they have liver cirrhosis. Also, maintaining a healthy weight and eating healthy food is a crucial preventive aspect." She added.
How is cirrhosis developed?
Liver is a strong organ as it is able to repair itself to a great extent. It can regenerate the damaged cells to prevent several ailments. But when the liver is unable to repair itself due to the presence of viral infections and remains damaged for a long time, it causes scarring that eventually leads to cirrhosis of the liver. It is unable to function properly and shrink or harden. In such a case, the blood carrying essential nutrients is unable to reach the liver. The portal vein carries blood to the liver and when it cannot pass through the organ, the pressure increases on the vein and this condition is called portal hypertension. This occurrence causes esophageal varices which are nearly same as varicose veins where the veins burst and start to bleed.
Also Read: How Are Hepatitis and Cirrhosis Different?
What causes cirrhosis of liver?
There are various causes of liver cirrhosis where the most common of them are:
- Alcohol abuse or regular uncontrolled drinking habits
- Chronic viral liver infections such as hepatitis
- Non-alcoholic steatohepatitis is a fatty liver condition caused due to diabetes and obesity
- Inherited diseases such as cystic fibrosis, Wilson disease, Alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency, glycogen storage issues and hemochromatosis
- Autoimmune hepatitis
- Blocked or damaged bile duct
- Biliary atresia
- Primary sclerosing cholangitis
- Primary biliary cholangitis
- Chronic heart failure
A liver disease gradually develops into cirrhosis as the liver cells keep on dying after injury. The damaged liver cells are replaced by scar tissues and affect the functioning of the liver. Over time, damage develops into scarring and cirrhosis.
Symptoms of liver cirrhosis
Cirrhosis occurs when the liver is unable to function properly. It is not purifying the blood, allow fat and vitamin absorption, release toxins, produce blood-clotting proteins, etc. The problem arises as there are no warning signs or initial symptoms of liver cirrhosis. The signs start to appear only after the disease or scarring has progressed. In that case, the person may exhibit the following symptoms:
- Bleeding nose
- Reduced appetite
- Anorexia or eating disorder
- Itchy skin
- Sudden weight loss
- Weakness or low energy
With progression, symptoms worsen and lead to:
- Edema or swollen legs
- Ascites or abdominal swelling
- Confusion or problem in thinking
Who can get liver cirrhosis?
There are certain risk factors of liver cirrhosis that increase the chances of developing this chronic liver disease. Here is a list of possible factors that increase the risk of someone experiencing scarring or cirrhosis:
- Long-term alcohol abuse
- Viral hepatitis infection
- Type-2 diabetes
- Liver disease in the past
- Infection due to shared needles
Diagnosis of liver cirrhosis
Since this is a chronic condition, it is diagnosed through a detailed physical exam along with the past history of liver ailments. The doctor would ask you about your medical history, symptoms, problems and some other things that help in identifying the underlying problem. If the physical exam finds jaundice, hand tremors, reddened palms, small testicles, an enlarged spleen, etc. symptoms, the doctor would recommend these tests to find the damage percentage or cirrhosis:
- Liver function tests
- Albumin test to find the protein production levels
- Complete blood count
- Blood coagulation test to examine blood clotting rate
- Alpha-fetoprotein test to check for liver cancer
- Upper endoscopy to check for busting and bleeding of veins
- Liver ultrasound
- CT scan of the abdomen
- Liver biopsy
Other health complications due to liver cirrhosis
While liver cirrhosis itself is a chronic condition, it can give rise to many other dangerous conditions. These are:
- Esophageal varices or busting and bleeding of veins that leads to portal hypertension.
- Bruising on different parts of the skin due to poor blood clotting
- Kidney failure
- Liver cancer
- Hepatic encephalopathy that causes cognitive dysfunction due to toxin reaching the brain
- Enlarged spleen
How can liver cirrhosis be prevented?
The answer is very simple. Avoid the risk factors and ward off the possibilities of liver cirrhosis. Here are some ways to prevent scarring of the liver:
- To cut down the risk of viral hepatitis, practice safe intercourse. Also, get yourself vaccinated for hepatitis.
- Cut down alcohol consumption or limit the intake to 1-2 drinks a week. This prevents alcohol abuse and reduces the risk of many other associated illnesses.
- Eat a balanced diet and do apple cider detox for liver cleansing.
- Do regular exercising to prevent fat accumulation that may also trigger the onset of liver diseases.
- If you have hepatitis, get yourself tested regularly to check if you have developed cirrhosis or scarring.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is cirrhosis liver cancer?
No. Liver cancer and liver cirrhosis are two different conditions. Cirrhosis can develop into cancer over time if not given medical attention. People who have liver cancer have cirrhosis. Having hepatitis or any other liver infection or disease also increases the risk of both cirrhosis and cancer.
Can someone get cirrhosis from their parents?
A lot of people believe that cirrhosis is a hereditary disease but it is partially true. Cirrhosis is not hereditary but other factors that lead to cirrhosis are inherited. If your parent has any chronic liver disease, you may get it too.
Is cirrhosis fatal?
Cirrhosis is a condition that develops gradually. Just like other diseases, timely diagnosis can prevent it from worsening. If you are diagnosed with liver cirrhosis doesn’t mean that it is immediately fatal. Get it diagnosed and treated with a specialist to save your life.
Liver cirrhosis is a chronic liver condition that develops gradually and can be fatal. However, the right treatment can prevent permanent liver damage. Preventing cirrhosis of the liver is possible by exercising the measures mentioned in this article. Those who are at a greater risk of developing cirrhosis must get a regular liver screening done.
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