Cirrhosis is a term used to describe the late stage of fibrosis (scarring) to the liver, caused by a chronic liver disease, such as alcoholism or viral hepatitis. As the liver is continually damaged by the disease, scar tissue builds up that eventually inhibits liver function. The damage of cirrhosis cannot be undone, so you should immediately contact a local doctor if you experience any symptoms.
Common Causes of Cirrhosis
Cirrhosis can be caused by many long-term liver diseases, such as:
- Chronic alcoholism
- Chronic viral hepatitis
- Fatty liver disease
- Cystic fibrosis
- Wilson’s Disease
- Biliary Atresia
- Primary Biliary Cirrhosis
- Primary Sclerosing Cholangitis
Symptoms of Cirrhosis
In its early stages, cirrhosis has very few symptoms. However, as it develops, symptoms increase in severity. They can include:
- Vomiting blood
- Severely itchy skin
- Loss of appetite
- Easy bleeding and bruising
- Fluid accumulation in the abdomen or legs
- Darkened urine
- Confusion and slurred speech
In its early stages, cirrhosis is asymptomatic, making it difficult to diagnose. However, if you suffer from a chronic liver disease or related genetic condition, your doctor will likely perform routine blood tests to monitor your liver function. Diagnosis usually begins through investigating a combination of your medical history, physical exams, blood tests, and symptoms.
To formally diagnose your cirrhosis and determine its root cause, your doctor will likely order a medical imaging test, biopsies, or blood tests. Tests that may be used to diagnose cirrhosis can include: CT scan, abdominal ultrasound, MRI, Magnetic resonance cholangiopancreatography (MRCP), biopsy, or a liver function test.
While severe damage to the liver is largely irreversible, there are treatment options and lifestyle changes that can help alleviate unpleasant symptoms and slow scarring. Treatment options also vary based on the type of cirrhosis Some treatment options can include:
- Certain antibiotic medications.
- Surgery. In some severe cases, livery transplant surgery may be necessary.
- Diet changes. If you’re diagnosed with cirrhosis, you should never consume alcohol. You may also be recommended to begin a low-sodium or plant-based diet.
Complications of Cirrhosis
Cirrhosis and long-term damage to the liver can result in a number of complications and other conditions. These can include:
- Portal hypertension, or high-blood pressure in the veins around the liver. This is because long-term cirrhosis limits and damages the normal blood flow in the liver.
- Splenomegaly, or enlargement of the spleen. Portal hypertension can cause swelling and damage to the spleen, trapping platelets and white blood cells.
- Serious internal bleeding, as a result of portal hypertension.
- Infections and malabsorption. Cirrhosis debilitates your immune system, hinders your absorption of nutrients, and damages body function, resulting in a buildup of toxins, increased chance of sickness, and overall weakened state.
- Worsened diabetes. If you already have Type 2 diabetes, cirrhosis will increase your insulin resistance, worsening your symptoms of diabetes.
- Liver cancer. Having cirrhosis increases your chance of developing liver cancer.
- Limit alcohol consumption.
- Reduce your risk of contracting hepatitis. Getting vaccinated and practicing safe sex can limit the risk of hepatits.
- Keep up a healthy weight and active lifestyle. Being overweight can damage your liver and increase your risk of having cirrhosis.
- Monitor your existing conditions. If you have a genetic or preexisting condition that puts you at risk of developing cirrhosis, stay vigilant and informed of your symptoms.