Liver cirrhosis is an irreversible medical condition that is considered the final stage of liver disease. Cirrhosis may develop from any type of liver disease as it is related to the damage of the liver cells and their substitution with scar tissue.
Unlike common thought, a person can live even after developing cirrhosis. Still, the duration of life of such patients is limited as the illness continues progressing and will eventually come to the point where liver failure becomes inescapable.
Why Does Liver Cirrhosis Appear? Typical Causes
Cirrhosis is another name for advanced scarring of the liver. Why do those scars appear? The liver is the only organ in the entire human body that can regenerate itself. Whenever your liver tissue gets damaged (the causes of injury may vary) the organ tries to heal itself, which results in the formation of scar tissue.
Unlike a healthy liver, the organ affected by cirrhosis cannot function the way it is supposed to. A decreased function of the liver is also called decompensated cirrhosis.
The causes of the ailment vary significantly and may involve diseases, lifestyle choices, physical injuries, and others. Among the most often reported reasons that can lead to cirrhosis, there are:
- viral hepatitis (with hepatitis B and C prevailing);
- fatty liver disease, aka accumulation of fat cells in the organ;
- biliary atresia, which is a medical condition characterized by the bile ducts blockage;
- excessive alcohol consumption;
- excess of iron in the body;
- bile ducts scarring, stiffening, or damage;
- Alagille syndrome – a genetic digestive disorder;
- cystic fibrosis, and others.
How Common Is Cirrhosis. Disease Risk Factors
The disease prevalence in the United States is reported to be around 0.27%. Taking the entire adult population of the country, this makes about one out of 400 people. However, the illness gets more common as people age. For this reason, the incidence of this hepatic disorder in people aged 45 – 54 is twice higher and is approximately one in 200 people.
As we see, age is one of the independent factors of getting liver cirrhosis. As for the other factors contributing you the risk of the disease, they are:
- belonging to Mexican Americans or non-Hispanic blacks;
- living in poverty and below the poverty level;
- chronic hepatitis;
- consumption of injectable narcotics;
- male gender.
Another thing that can boost your chances of developing cirrhosis is liver cancer. Many people think these are the same thing, yet they are wrong. Still, the presence of one of these medical conditions enhances the risks of developing the other one. What’s more, the treatment of liver cancer might be less effective in people with cirrhosis as it limits surgical approaches to the treatment of malignant liver conditions.
Signs of Liver Cirrhosis
Liver cirrhosis is an insidious disorder, as it doesn’t show any signs or symptoms in the early stages. They develop only when the damage spreads and becomes advanced. The symptoms reported most often include but are not limited to:
- poor appetite;
- bruising and bleeding for seemingly no reason;
- extreme tiredness;
- yellowing of the eyes and skin;
- blood in the vomit;
- darkening of the urine, which may signal blood in it;
- swelling of the legs and hands;
- the buildup of fluid in the abdominal area;
- skin itchiness;
- loss of interest in sex, etc.
How to Diagnose Liver Cirrhosis?
People suffering from liver disease for an extended period should be regularly monitored for liver cirrhosis. If you have never been diagnosed with any kind of liver disorder but suspect there’s something wrong with this organ, make an appointment with your GP. Based on your medical history and current symptoms, your doctor may suspect cirrhosis.
To confirm the diagnosis, you’ll have to pass the following checkups:
- blood tests to check liver enzymes and other indexes of liver work;
- CT scan, MRI, or ultrasound can be recommended to check for any visible changes in your liver function as well as the presence of bile duct blockage, tumors, cysts, etc.
If the doctor’s suspicions confirm, you’ll be sent for a liver biopsy, which involves taking a sample of the liver cells for further study under the microscope.
As mentioned earlier, this medical condition cannot be cured. However, there’s a good chance that you’ll be able to slow down its progress and delay hepatic failure. Depending on the cause of the disease, your healthcare provider may offer different options.
People with chronic hepatitis may significantly benefit from taking anti-viral medications. The therapy will halt the development of the initial disease and, therefore, slow down the progress of cirrhosis.
When cirrhosis advances to a life-threatening condition, getting a liver transplant may be an option. Liver transplants can be received from posthumous or living donors. The ability of the liver to regenerate allows for growing a fully functional organ, even if you receive a part of it.
Some Pieces of Advice for Disease Prevention
Keeping in mind that cirrhosis is incurable, it’s best to prevent this disease. What can you do to minimize your risks? Below you’ll find some recommendations that will allow you to preserve your liver health and prevent cirrhosis:
- Healthy diet is the key to a healthy body. Bring lots of fruit and vegetables to your meals. Whole grain products and lean meat should also be part of your healthy diet. Eliminate food rich in bad cholesterol, like canned food, fast food, processed food, and fried foods.
- Alcohol consumption should be limited. But if you’ve already been diagnosed with severe liver disease, abstaining from alcohol is the best decision.
- Fat is one of the worst enemies of your liver. Therefore, keeping your body mass within the normal range is essential for preserving liver health. Bring physical exercises to your daily routine. This will help your overall physical condition and your liver in particular.
- Apply measures to protect yourself from hepatitis. Vaccination is the best way to avoid getting infected. Having unprotected sexual intercourse and sharing needles for injectable narcotics are the two things that raise your chances of infection to the peak. So, please, take care of your health and be safe.
Liver cirrhosis doesn’t leave you a chance for complete recovery. This lifelong condition will eventually exacerbate, demanding new and new treatments. Hopefully, someday scientists will find a way to cure it. But, for now, organ transplantation is the only option.