Cirrhosis: What You Need to Know
Cirrhosis is a condition in which your liver is scarred and suffers permanent damage. Here’s what you need to know about the condition.
Causes and Risk Factors
When the liver is damaged, it attempts to repair itself and scar tissue forms. Over time, this scar tissue builds up and makes it difficult for the liver to function. Cirrhosis is the term for late stage damage. Damage can be caused by various conditions and diseases. These include chronic alcohol abuse, syphilis, chronic viral hepatitis, some genetic disorders, and nonalcoholic fatty liver disease.
Risk factors for cirrhosis include excessive alcohol consumption, having viral hepatitis, and being overweight. Each of these factors can lead to some of the diseases and conditions listed above, which can damage the liver and lead to cirrhosis over time.
Symptoms of Cirrhosis
There are several potential symptoms of cirrhosis. In the early stages of disease, many people do not experience any symptoms. Symptoms and complications often occur in later stages of disease, when it is more severe. These include severely itchy skin, fatigue, nausea, loss of appetite, jaundice, easily bleeding and bruising, and fluid accumulation on the abdomen.
In cases of early-stage cirrhosis, most people do not have symptoms, and diagnosis is likely to be incidental through a routine blood test or doctor’s visit. In general, doctors diagnose cirrhosis through a combination of physical exams, blood tests, medical history, and symptoms. Often, doctors will order additional testing to confirm a diagnosis. They may do this through blood testing, imaging tests, or biopsy. Imaging tests and biopsies can help determine the extent of cirrhosis, and blood testing can help identify the underlying cause of the condition. For example, blood testing may help identify elevated bilirubin levels, creatinine levels, or hepatitis infection.
Treatment approaches for cirrhosis vary based on the extent and cause of liver damage. Typically, treatment will focus on preventing or treating any symptoms and slowing the rate of scar tissue buildup on the liver. If doctors catch cirrhosis early, the underlying cause may be treatable to reduce any further damage. For example, if someone has developed it as a result of chronic alcohol abuse, their doctor will likely recommend they quit drinking. They may be encouraged to join an alcohol addiction program if quitting is difficult.
If hepatitis causes cirrhosis, there are medications that can treat the virus to prevent further liver damage. If it develops due to nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, focusing on weight loss and controlling blood sugar can help. Additionally, there are often medications that can help treat symptoms and complications like pain, itching, and osteoporosis. In late-stage cases, when the liver has too much damage to function, a liver transplant may be the only option.
Preventing and managing cirrhosis entail several lifestyle behaviors. Avoiding alcohol, practicing safe sex, exercising regularly, eating a healthy diet, and using over the counter medicines carefully are good prevention measures.
Our experienced team at GHP has years of experience treating conditions including cirrhosis. We can help establish the best plan of care for your situation. Contact any of our office locations to learn about the options we offer and schedule an appointment today.