Cirrhosis is a condition which results from permanent damage or scarring of the liver. The scar tissue that forms in the liver prevents the liver from working properly by affecting its ability to produce proteins, store vitamins and minerals and eliminate toxins, as well as blocking the normal flow of blood through the liver.  

Causes of Cirrhosis

Cirrhosis is caused by several factors, including:
  • Chronic alcohol abuse
  • Hepatitis B, C and D
  • Autoimmune hepatitis
  • Iron build up in the body
  • Wilson’s disease caused by an accumulation of copper in the liver
  • Obstruction of the bile ducts, causing bile to back up in the liver, scarring the liver and developing into cirrhosis
  • Fatty liver, causing chronic inflammation of the liver and cirrhosis
  • Long-term exposure to certain medications
  • Long-term exposure to toxins
  • Repeated bouts of heart failure

Symptoms of Cirrhosis

Most people have few or no symptoms from cirrhosis, but complications do occur based on the stage of evolution of the disease. When symptoms do occur, they may include:
  • Fatigue, loss of appetite with possible nausea and weight loss
  • Irregular menstruation in women; enlarged breast tissue and loss of sexual drive in men
  • Swelling in the legs or abdomen due to low albumin levels and a build-up of fluid in the legs or abdominal cavity
  • Bruising or bleeding easily due to a decrease in the proteins needed for blood clotting
  • Jaundice or yellow discoloration in the skin and eyes caused by an accumulation of the pigment melanin
  • Intense itching of the skin due to bile products being deposited in the skin
  • Mental disturbances as the liver no longer filters out toxins effectively, causing the toxins to build up in the blood, and causing mental impairment, such as poor concentration or forgetfulness
  • Sensitivity to medicines as the liver does not filter medications as effectively as normal, sometimes resulting in the build-up of medications in the body and potentially increasing the effects of the medication
  • Massive bleeding in the stomach or esophagus due to abnormal blood flow, an issue which is life-threatening and requires immediate medical attention

Diagnosis of Cirrhosis

  • History of symptoms
  • Blood tests
  • Other tests
    • Computed Tomography (CT) scan
    • Ultrasound
    • Liver stiffness measurement
    • Tissue sample (biopsy)

Treatment Options

The goals of treatment are to slow down the progression of scar tissue in the liver and to prevent complications by treating the underlying cause. The doctor treats the condition; however, the patients should be careful to limit additional damage that can lead to liver failure.

Tips for treating and preventing complications of cirrhosis

  • Stop drinking alcohol
  • Avoid medications and substances that increase damage to the liver
  • Avoid raw food, particularly raw seafood, due to possible bacterial infection
  • Eat a proper amount of protein and choose lean protein such as fish, or legume protein such as soy, etc.
  • Avoid adding salt to meals if swelling in the legs and abdomen
  • Get vaccinated for hepatitis A and B, influenza, and pneumonia, because cirrhosis makes it more difficult for patients to fight off infections
  • See a doctor for monitoring the condition
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