Liver Cirrhosis: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

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Today, taking a glass of wine or beer with a meal is quite common habit. However, when drinking turns from an occasional pleasure to a regular habit, it can damage your health irreparably. One of the biggest health concerns of alcoholism is liver cirrhosis.

Liver Cirrhosis

What is Liver Cirrhosis?

Liver cirrhosis is a serious degenerative disease. In this, healthy cells within the liver are replaced by damaged ones. As a result, the liver is filled with scar tissue. As the scar tissue in the liver continues to increase, it hampers the liver’s function. Severe damage can cause liver failure and death.

What Happens in the Body When You have Liver Cirrhosis?

An unhealthy liver impacts your body in many ways. Some of these include:

  • Rupturing vessels: When the liver is healthy, blood flows through it normally. However, when the liver is damaged, the flow of blood is disrupted by the scar tissue. As the blood must continue to flow, it finds other paths to reach the heart. Sometimes, this means going through the stomach and oesophagus through small veins. This blood flow makes the vessels enlarge to support it, causing it to eventually rupture.
  • Low immunity: The liver works in tandem with the spleen in order to detoxify the body. It traps and gets rid of worn out red blood cells. It also helps remove bacteria and viruses from the blood. As a result, the liver plays a key role in the overall immunity of the body. An unhealthy liver can impact how often you fall sick.
  • Digestive system: The liver is a part of the digestive system. It creates bile, which helps break down food in the stomach and intestines. It also regulates the total amount of essential minerals such as proteins, fats, and sugar in the blood. An unhealthy liver can send the digestive system into disarray and even increase blood sugar levels.

What Causes Liver Cirrhosis?

Cirrhosis occurs due to liver injuries that take place over a long period. These injuries can be caused due to genetic reasons (such as Wilson’s disease), long-term obstruction of bile flow, and exposure to drugs and alcohol. Diseases like viral hepatitis and Fatty Liver can also contribute to cirrhosis. A majority of the cases of liver cirrhosis occur due to alcohol consumption.

Interestingly, alcohol tolerance also plays a large role in the way your liver reacts to the substance. Some patients experience extreme scarring in spite of drinking only one drink per day. Others may not experience signs until later in life, when they are used to drinking much more!

Now, please do not lull yourself into a false sense of security. If you are a heavy drinker and have not experienced symptoms till now, do not rationalize that as a sign to continue drinking the same way you do. If nothing else, do schedule regular check-ups to keep an eye on your liver.

What are the Symptoms of Liver Cirrhosis?

One of the things that make liver cirrhosis so deadly is that this disease rarely exhibits any signs and symptoms, until it has progressed extensively and caused a fair amount of damage to the liver. Once it reaches that stage, patients tend to experience symptoms such as:

  • Fatigue
  • Redness in the palms
  • Jaundice (yellow discoloration of the skin and eyes)
  • Itchy Skin
  • Bruising easily and bleeding easily
  • Swelling in the legs
  • Nausea
  • Loss of appetite
  • Fluid build-up in the abdomen
  • Confusion and drowsiness
  • Slurred speech
  • Weight loss
  • Visible spidery blood vessels
  • Breast enlargement in men
  • Testicular atrophy in men

What Complications can Cirrhosis Cause?

Liver cirrhosis can lead to a range of complications such as:

  • Hypertension: As the blood flow in the liver slows down, the pressure in the veins increases, leading to hypertension. This hypertension can lead to other problems include swelling in the feet and legs, enlargement of the spleen, and bleeding.
  • Malnutrition: Cirrhosis impacts your body’s ability to process and absorb essential nutrients. This leads to the development of malnutrition.
  • Build-up of Toxins: One of the functions of the liver is to remove toxins from the blood. However, an unhealthy liver is not able to do so. As a result, the toxins build-up in the body, particularly in the brain. This can lead to mental confusion and problems with concentration and focus. When toxins affect your brain, the reactions can range from mild confusion and fatigue to cognitive difficulties and coma.
  • Jaundice: Bilirubin is a waste product that is filtered out by the liver. An excess amount of bilirubin in the system leads to jaundice. This occurs because the liver is damaged and cannot filter out the waste.
  • Bone disease: Patients with cirrhosis tend to lose bone strength. As a result, this leads to fractures and an increases susceptibility to bone disease.
  • Infections: Liver damage can increase the chances of developing infections. One of the most serious ones is bacteria peritonitis.

It is also important to note that liver damage can increase the patient’s risk of developing liver cancer. It can also lead to multi-organ failure in the body.

Is Liver Cirrhosis Reversible?

Liver damage caused due to cirrhosis is not reversible. If the doctor catches the problem early, further damage can be prevented. However, the damage that is already done cannot be un-done.

How is Liver Cirrhosis Diagnosed?

As patients do not present with symptoms during the early stages of this disease, routine blood tests are often allow doctors to catch liver cirrhosis early. If there are indications in the blood test that something is amiss, the doctor can order any of the following tests to confirm the diagnosis:

  • Liver function: This test checks your blood for high levels of bilirubin and certain bodily enzymes that indicate liver problems.
  • Tests for Hepatitis B and C.
  • Kidney function: Doctors may order kidney function tests as cirrhosis can sometimes damage the kidneys too.
  • Clotting: Doctors may check your body’s ability to clot.
  • MRI, CTs, And Ultrasounds: In order to have a closer look at the liver, the doctor may order imaging tests.
  • Biopsy: A biopsy can offer a closer view of the liver cells and indicate whether something larger like cancer is at play.

How is Liver Cirrhosis Treated?

Treatment depends on two main factors – treating the underlying cause (if applicable) and treating the complications. Thus, treatment options generally depend on the patient’s medical history. However, the following are the common courses of treatment prescribed to patients suffering from liver cirrhosis:

  • Treating alcohol dependency (often through rehab or counseling)
  • Treating hepatitis through medications
  • Treating the progression of cirrhosis through medication
  • Encouraging weight loss
  • Treating hypertension (a complication of cirrhosis) through blood pressure medication
  • Treating bacterial and viral infections through medications

Can Lifestyle Changes Help Patients?

Patients can take certain preventative measures to avoid this disease. These include:

  • Limiting alcohol intake (or stopping it altogether)
  • Eating food with low sodium
  • Using OTC drugs with extra caution (as cirrhosis hampers the liver’s ability to filter out drugs and this can cause major complications)
  • Maintaining hygiene with caution as liver failure hampers your body’s ability to fight off infections

Conclusion:

Liver cirrhosis is a serious disease. Patients can prevent this from occurring by limiting alcohol intake. Another great way to prevent this is to get yearly blood tests that help doctors rule out (or diagnose) health problems. Taking out a single day of a year to consult a doctor and get a general check-up really isn’t much to ask for! Prioritize your health and prevent deadly disorders!

News on Liver Cirrhosis

Millennials Are The New Face Of Liver Cirrhosis

– 17th Dec 2018

Believed to be an old people disease, liver cirrhosis has a new face in Millennials, born during the 90s. Several pieces of research in Canada have shown that women are much more susceptible to liver cirrhosis than men. The studies have also shown, that most of these cases suffer from non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, which is a silent disease and may lead to liver cirrhosis at ages as young as 25 years. The cause for such a generational change is not clear, however, researchers claim that millennials are 116% more at risk, when compared to the generation of baby boomers. Most believe that this tendency is more due to several reasons like increased alcohol consumption by millennial women, however, several believe that this trend can also be reflective of genetic susceptibility. The good news is that non-alcoholic fatty liver disease can be managed with the right diet and exercise.

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