What is Cirrhosis?

Cirrhosis is scarring of the liver occurring after damage due to disease, alcohol abuse, and other conditions. As it progresses, the liver has difficulty functioning. Advanced cirrhosis can be life-threatening. Unfortunately, cirrhosis cannot be reversed, but it can be managed if diagnosed early.

There are often few signs until liver damage is extensive. Some of the earliest signs may include:

  • Fatigue
  • Easy bruising or bleeding
  • Itchy skin
  • Jaundice (yellowing of the eyes and skin)
  • Ascites (build-up of fluid in the abdomen)
  • Nausea
  • Loss of appetite
  • Unexpected weight loss
  • Confusion, drowsiness, or slurred speech
  • Spider-like blood vessels on the skin.

More serious complications resulting from cirrhosis can include:

  •         Portal hypertension (high blood pressure in veins supplying the liver)
  •         Swelling in the legs and abdomen
  •         An enlarged spleen
  •         Increased risk of infections
  •         Malnutrition
  •         Hepatic encephalopathy (excess toxins in the brain)
  •         Bone disease
  •         Gallstones and bile duct stones
  •         Increased risk of liver cancer

Inherited conditions, diseases, or alcohol abuse can all be singular causes of cirrhosis, or they can combine to cause cirrhosis.

Some of the most common causes of cirrhosis include:

  • Hepatitis B
  • Hepatitis C
  • Autoimmune hepatitis
  • Chronic alcohol abuse
  • Hemochromatosis (iron buildup in the body)
  • Cystic fibrosis
  • Wilson’s disease (excess copper in the liver)
  • Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease
  • Damage to or destruction of the bile ducts, including:
    • Biliary Atresia
    • Primary biliary cirrhosis
    • Primary sclerosing cholangiti

Cirrhosis can be diagnosed and staged using several different tests, including Blood tests, such as:

  • Liver function test-Blood is checked for excess bilirubin and other specific enzymes
  • Kidney function test-Blood is checked for creatinine.
  • Clotting test-Blood is checked for its ability to clot
  • Tests for hepatitis B and C
  • Imaging tests, such as:
    • Magnetic resonance elastography or MRE-Detects hardening or stiffening of the liver
    • MRI
    • CT scan
    • Ultrasound
    • Biopsy-May be used to determine the severity and cause of liver damage.

Treatment for cirrhosis primarily involves treating the underlying cause or causes to slow further damage to the liver.

Common treatments for underlying causes of cirrhosis include:

  • Weight loss
  • Treatment of alcohol addiction
  • Medications for hepatitis B or C
  • Medications for other causes

Treatment may also be necessary for any complications caused by cirrhosis.

Common treatments for complications include:

  • Antibiotics and Vaccinations to reduce the risk of infection and serious illness.
  • Regular screenings for liver cancer
  • Upper endoscopies at regular intervals to screen for varices (enlarged veins in the esophagus and stomach)
  • Medications to reduce the buildup of toxins in the blood
  • Low-sodium diet to reduce excess fluid in the body
  • Procedures to drain fluid or surgery to relieve pressure from parts of the body
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