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Oct 2023

All you need to know about Cirrhosis

Posted By Suborna Fermi Posted on Oct 04, 2023

Cirrhosis is a progressive liver disease where scar tissues replace the healthy liver cells. This condition is the severe stage of a persistent liver disease. Several factors can contribute to severe liver scarring. Without any treatment cirrhosis can cause chronic liver failure, kidney and cardiovascular failure.

What is cirrhosis of the liver?

Cirrhosis of the liver is the last stage of a liver disease, where the healthy liver cells are gradually replaced with scar tissues. Build up of the scar tissues can affect the blood flow to the liver which leads to liver dysfunction. Various factors can cause liver damage and cirrhosis.

How does cirrhosis affect my body?

Liver scarring can create blockage in the blood flow through your liver tissues. When the liver does not get enough oxygen and blood flow, it begins to slow down the process of metabolizing nutrients and filtering out the toxins. Cirrhosis impacts your liver’s ability to produce bile and other crucial blood components. When scar tissue builds up, it can narrow blood vessels of the liver including the portal vein system which can lead to portal hypertension.

What are the stages of cirrhosis?

As cirrhosis of the liver is a progressive condition, it worsens as more scar tissue develops. Cirrhosis is divided into two stages, such as:

  • Compensated cirrhosis: In this stage, people do nor experience any symptoms. Although there could be scarring of the liver but not progressed enough to cause any symptoms.
  • Decompensated cirrhosis: At this stage people begin to notice symptoms of liver damage. Decompensated cirrhosis is a very serious stage.

What are the symptoms of cirrhosis?

Cirrhosis of the liver may not cause any noticeable symptoms at its early stage. It causes symptoms when the scarring of the liver has progressed to the point that the liver cannot do its regular functions. Cirrhosis can reduce the liver’s ability to:

  • Metabolize fats and fat-soluble vitamins
  • Filter the blood
  • Produce important proteins
  • Break down toxins

The common symptoms of cirrhosis include:

  • Fatigue
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Low appetite
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Pain on the upper right side of your abdomen
  • Swollen veins

The serious symptoms include:

  • Swollen abdomen
  • Jaundice
  • Swelling of the legs
  • Dark urine
  • Itchy skin
  • Easy bruising and bleeding
  • Difficulties in thinking clearly

What are the common causes of cirrhosis?

The two most common causes of cirrhosis are hepatitis and too much alcohol consumption. However, multiple factors can cause cirrhosis of the liver.

1. Hepatitis: Hepatitis is a viral infection that causes inflammation and damage to the liver. There are many types of hepatitis infections, however, hepatitis B and C are known as the major cause of cirrhosis. You may get infected with these viruses through exposure to blood containing viruses.

2. Alcohol related fatty liver disease: Our liver helps to break down toxins including alcohol. If the toxins levels are too high, your liver will not be able to filter them out efficiently which can cause damage to the liver. People who consume 30 to 50 gms of popchol on a daily basis, are at a higher risk of developing liver disease.

3. Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease: Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease is a condition where fat builds up in the liver but it is not because of alcohol misuse. This is common in people who have diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, PCOS and other genetic conditions.

4. Other Conditions: Apart from all these, other medical conditions that can lead to cirrhosis include:

  • Hemochromatosis (When iron pile up in the liver and other body parts)
  • Damage to the bile duct
  • Cystic fibrosis
  • Galactosemia (incapability to process sugar in milk)
  • Glycogen storage disease (When the body fails to store and release energy that is vital for cell function)
  • Schistosomiasis (parasitic infection)
  • Budd-chiari syndrome
  • Wilson’s disease

What are the risk factors?

You might be at risk if developing cirrhosis of the liver:

  • If your age is over 50
  • If you have a history of alcohol misuse
  • If you have a chronic viral hepatitis infection
  • If you have metabolic syndrome

How is cirrhosis diagnosed?

To diagnose the condition, your healthcare adviser will ask you about your health history, lifestyle, diet and any medications you take. They will also carry out a physical exam to check for swelling in the upper right abdomen area. After that, they will prescribe you certain diagnostic tests. The tests may include:

  • Blood test: Doctors generally recommend taking a Liver function test or liver profile test to diagnose liver disease. This panel of tests will measure the levels of liver enzymes, bilirubin and other essential protein levels in your blood.
  • Imaging test: Your doctor might also recommend imaging tests including ultrasound, CT scan, and MRI. This will help the doctors to look for liver enlargement, scarring and nodules.
  • Liver biopsy: For liver biopsy, a small sample of your liver tissue will be collected to detect cirrhosis and understand the cause of it.

What are the complications of cirrhosis?

Cirrhosis can affect several organs of your body, including lungs, kidneys, cardiovascular system, gastrointestinal system, skin and nails. The common effects of cirrhosis include:

  • Hormonal imbalance
  • Malnutrition
  • Bacterial infections
  • Reduced immunity
  • Digestive issues
  • Hepatic encephalopathy
  • Mild cognitive impairment
  • Motor dysfunction

The life-threatening complications of cirrhosis may include:

  • Liver cancer
  • Chronic liver failure
  • Kidney failure
  • Respiratory failure
  • Gallstones
  • Gastrointestinal varices and esophageal varices
  • Spontaneous bacterial peritonitis

How is cirrhosis treated?

The treatment of liver cirrhosis depends on various factors including how far the disease has progressed, what symptoms you are having, and what caused it. Generally, cirrhosis is treated with lifestyle changes, medications and surgery.

  • Lifestyle changes: If your liver cirrhosis is caused because of heavy alcohol use, then you need to stop drinking. Your doctor might also advise you to maintain a healthy weight and have a balanced diet.
  • Medications: Your doctor might suggest certain medications like beta-blockers and nitrates depending on the cause of cirrhosis. They might also prescribe you antibiotics or other medications if the cirrhosis is caused by hepatitis.
  • Surgery: If the cirrhosis has progressed to that level where medications and lifestyle changes are not enough then the last option is liver transplant.

Our liver has many vital functions, and if it gets severely scarred due to a liver disease, the scarring will not be reversible. As this condition does not cause any symptoms at the beginning stage, one may not be able to understand if they have cirrhosis. This is why make sure to go for routine health checkups to detect any underlying health condition.