Cirrhosis is a serious condition that occurs when soft healthy liver tissue is replaced with hard scar tissue. This scarring typically occurs during the final stage of chronic liver disease and if left untreated can progress to liver failure.
Cirrhosis is not caused by a single trauma to the liver or other short-term causes of damage. It usually takes many years of chronic, damaging liver disease to result in cirrhosis. The most common causes of chronic liver disease include long-term Hepatitis C infection and heavy alcohol consumption. Other causes of cirrhosis include obesity, Hepatitis B & D, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, diseases that damage or destroy bile ducts, drug usage, prolonged exposure to chemical toxins, and parasitic infection.
Many people with cirrhosis have no symptoms in the early stages of the disease. However, as the disease progresses, a person may experience weakness, fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, weight loss, abdominal pain and bloating, itching, yellowing of skin or eyes, confusion, impotence, edema, and spider-like blood vessels on the skin.
Cirrhosis is typically diagnosed based on the presence of risk factors like alcohol use, chronic hepatitis infection or obesity. During a physical examination of the abdomen, your physician may find that the liver feels hard or enlarged and may order blood and liver function tests to evaluate your condition. Additionally, CT scans, MRI scans or ultrasounds may be performed in order to view the liver for signs of enlargement, reduced blood flow or ascites. Finally, a liver biopsy may be needed to assess the extent of liver damage.
A. Yes, as liver function deteriorates, one or more complications may develop. In some people, complications may be the first sign of the disease and may result in hospitalization. Some complications include:
- Bruising and bleeding easily
- Edema and ascites
- Esophageal varices (enlarged blood vessels prone to bursting)
- Gastropathy (stomach wall congestion)
- Hepatic encephalopathy (confusion or altered brain function caused by liver failure)
- Immune system dysfunction
- Insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes
- Kidney and lung failure
- Liver cancer
- Portal venous hypertension
- Sensitivity to medications
- Splenomegaly (enlarged spleen)
It was previously thought that no treatment will cure cirrhosis or repair scarring. New therapies for some diseases suggest it could be reversible at particular stages. The goals of treatment generally are to prevent further liver damage and reduce complications. Typically, this includes lifestyle changes like avoiding alcohol and drugs, limiting salt in the diet, and getting vaccinated for influenza and Hepatitis A & B. If complications of cirrhosis arise, specific treatment for those symptoms may include medication, surgery, or other therapies.
When cirrhosis progression and complications cannot be controlled by treatment and liver failure is progressive, your physician may determine a liver transplant may be the best option for you.