Cirrhosis

By:    Published: October 11, 2012

a a a

Cirrhosis is a medical condition that affects the liver. The liver is a vital organ in our bodies that is responsible for several important body functions. It is located in the upper right of the abdomen to the right side of the stomach. When the liver is damaged and scarred, cirrhosis is present. Cirrhosis that is mild can be repaired by the liver itself. However, advanced cirrhosis is typically the end stage of chronic liver disease and results in the liver not being able to function properly. A person cannot survive with a liver that does not function.

Definition

Cirrhosis occurs when the liver is repeatedly damaged, resulting in the formation of scar tissue. Typically, the liver will deteriorate slowly and lose function. When the scar tissue develops, it overtakes the normal, healthy liver tissue. This invasive scar tissue will interrupt the flow of blood to the liver, resulting in a series of malfunctions of the liver including:

  • The inability to control infections
  • The inability to rid the blood of bacteria and toxins
  • The inability to manage nutrients, hormones or drugs
  • The inability to produce the blood clotting proteins
  • The inability to manufacture bile, which helps with the body’s absorption of fats and cholesterol

Symptoms

Symptoms of cirrhosis may come about gradually. However, a person with cirrhosis will typically display no symptoms until the liver is significantly damaged. Symptoms of cirrhosis may include:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Weight loss
  • Weakness
  • Play, gray colored or bloody stools
  • Nosebleeds or bleeding of the gums
  • Yellowing of the skin or eyes
  • Confusion or memory problems
  • Impotence or breast development in men
  • The appearance of small, red blood vessels on the skin
  • The build up of fluid and swelling of the abdomen
  • Swelling of the legs
  • Bruising easily
  • Bleeding easily

Causes

Cirrhosis is caused by a buildup of scar tissue in the liver that occurs over time. This scar tissue forms as a result of repeated damage. Each time the liver is damaged it attempts to repair itself, each self-repair causes more and more scar tissue to form. Eventually, the scar tissue interrupts proper liver function. It is possible for a person to have more than one cause for cirrhosis. There are a number of medical conditions and diseases that can lead to cirrhosis including:

  • Chronic alcohol abuse. Just 3 to 4 drinks per day over a period of several years can cause cirrhosis. This is the leading cause for cirrhosis-related deaths.
  • Hepatitis C
  • Hepatitis B
  • Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. Fat accumulates in the liver and leads to cirrhosis, due to obesity, diabetes or coronary artery disease.
  • Damage and scarring to the bile ducts of the liver
  • Auto immune hepatitis
  • Inherited diseases such as: cystic fibrosis, hemochromatosis, Wilson disease and galactosemia
  • Drug interactions
  • Parasitic infections
  • Exposure to toxins
  • Chronic bouts of heart failure in conjunction with congestion of the liver

Risk Factors

Going hand in hand with causes for cirrhosis are the risk factors. Certain conditions or behaviors may increase your chances of developing cirrhosis. These risk factors include:

  • Excessive consumption of alcohol over time increases the chance for cirrhosis because the liver is unable to breakdown large amount s of alcohol, causing the liver to become damaged.
  • Obesity can contribute to fatty liver disease, which leads to a build up of fat in the cells of the liver, causing damage.
  • Exposure to toxic chemicals
  • Adverse reactions to prescription drugs
  • A build up of iron in the system
  • An accumulation of copper in the liver known as Wilson disease.
  • Gallstones and pancreatitis can lead to blocked bile ducts in the liver.
  • Aging

Diagnostic Tests

If you are suspected of having cirrhosis your doctor will likely do a medical history to determine if any risk factors are present. A physical examination will also be conducted, with special attention to the abdomen, as the doctor will feel for an enlarged or hardened liver. Other diagnostic tests may include:

  • Blood tests that will screen for liver function, bilirubin count and an overall blood count
  • Imaging tests that may include CT scans or MRI
  • Liver biopsy, which is usually extracted with a needle and tested to determine the cause of the liver damage and to confirm diagnosis

Treatment Options

Treatment options will vary as to the degree of cirrhosis, be it mild or advanced. If the cirrhosis is in the early stages, it may be possible to control the damage by treating the cause, such as alcoholism or hepatitis. If cirrhosis is well underway, your treatment will likely be geared to controlling the complications that have arisen. Treatment at this stage may include:

  • Managing excess fluid in the body
  • Blood pressure medications to control any bleeding in the veins that surround the liver, esophagus and stomach
  • Antibiotics given to control any infection
  • Intermittent screening for liver cancer
  • Prescription medication to treat hepatic encephalopathy
  • Liver transplant surgery for those patients in liver failure

Home Remedies

If you have been diagnosed with cirrhosis, it may be possible for you to use some at home remedies to decrease the likelihood of any additional liver damage. These suggestions include:

  • Abstaining from the consumption of alcohol
  • Following a diet low in sodium
  • Adding additional helpings of fruits and vegetables to your current diet
  • Protect yourself from infection and illness
  • Consulting with your doctor before taking any over-the-counter medication

Alternative Medicine

There have been no alternative treatments proven effective for the treatment of the symptoms of cirrhosis. Many alternative treatments claim to cleanse or flush out the liver, however, there has been no concrete evidence that it is effective. Some alternative treatments are safe to try, but others are believed to possibly cause or contribute to liver disease and should be avoided. If you plan to try any alternative therapies consult your physician first. Some alternative treatments that may cause harm to the liver and should be used only under the use of a physician include:

  • Ma-Huang
  • Pennyroyal
  • Skullcap
  • Kava
  • Comfrey
  • Camphor
  • Chaparral

Possible Complications

The presence of cirrhosis can affect the way the body works and can cause complications to arise. These complications include:

  • Difficulty warding off infections
  • Malnutrition and weight loss
  • Portal Hypertension, bleeding and pressure in the vein that brings blood to the liver
  • Abdominal swelling
  • Leg swelling
  • Higher risk of developing liver cancer

Prevention

The only way to reduce the incidence of cirrhosis is to take good care of your liver. Taking care of your liver includes:

  • Abstaining from alcohol or at the very least, drinking in moderation.
  • Maintaining a healthy diet
  • Keeping excess weight down
  • Reducing the use of chemicals and using them very carefully, this includes household products
  • Preventing the transmission of Hepatitis B and C. Do not share needles and always have protected sex.

Considerations

If you have any signs or symptoms that are troubling, contact your doctor immediately. Remember that in the early stages of cirrhosis, no symptoms may be present. The best way to prevent cirrhosis is to take care of your liver. Contact your doctor for an appointment if you feel that you are at risk. Be sure to write down any symptoms that you are having and when they began.

Cirrhosis is a serious medical condition in which the liver accumulates scar tissue and over time liver function deteriorates. Cirrhosis tends to effect more women than men, and is responsible for nearly 27, 000 deaths each year. Some causes of cirrhosis, such as alcohol use or obesity-related fatty liver disease, can be prevented. Discuss with your doctor proper preventative measures and treatment options if you already have a diagnosis of cirrhosis.

Sources:

More in Diseases & Conditions

New on SymptomFind

a a a