Cirrhosis is the medical term for the scarring of the liver due to a long-term condition. Scar tissue, which is not functional, replaces healthy liver cells. As a result, the liver cannot function properly. Liver cirrhosis can be life-threatening, especially if most of the liver cells are replaced with scar tissue.
In the United States, according to the National Vital Statistics Reports (2004) of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), cirrhosis is ranked as the twelfth leading cause of death due to disease. It accounts for about 27, 000 deaths each year in the United States. Cirrhosis affects men slightly more than women.
The liver is the largest organ inside the body. It is located in the right upper abdomen below the right lung. Normal functions of the liver include: making proteins that help in blood clotting; helping fight infections; removing bacteria and toxins or wastes in the blood; helping in the digestion of food, especially fats by making a liquid substance called bile; and storing glucose-the body’s main fuel-when not needed. Without the liver, a person cannot survive.
There are many causes of cirrhosis. However, most cases of cirrhosis may be due to long-term heavy alcohol consumption and chronic hepatitis caused by the hepatitis B, C, or D viruses. Other causes of cirrhosis may include: nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), wherein fat deposits in the liver; defects in the passageway of bile like primary biliary cirrhosis; and diseases that are inherited, such as cystic fibrosis and Wilson’s disease. In some cases, cirrhosis may be caused by long-term exposure to toxic chemicals, extreme reaction to drugs, or infections caused by parasites.
Most people with cirrhosis do not experience signs or symptoms during its early stage. However, as the condition progresses, symptoms may appear, which may include feeling tired or weakness, loss of appetite, weight loss, nausea and vomiting, itching, and jaundice-having yellowish color of the skin and the eyes. Pain in the abdomen and bloating may also be a sign of cirrhosis if fluid gathers in the abdomen. Fluid accumulation in the abdomen is called ascites.
Signs or symptoms of cirrhosis may resemble other health problems. Having these symptoms, especially those that are at risk for the diseases, should consult their health care provider. People at risk for the disease may include those who: are chronic heavy alcohol drinkers; have chronic hepatitis, such as hepatitis B, C, or D; have inherited disorders that affect the liver; and obese.
As liver damage progresses, complications may appear. Sometimes, the complications may be the first signs that there is already liver damage. Some complications of cirrhosis may include bruising, bleeding problems, gallstones formation, and portal hypertension. Portal hypertension occurs when the blood vessel carrying blood to the liver-called portal vein-has increased pressure due to liver damage. Some people cirrhosis may also experience cancer of the liver.
Unfortunately, there is no treatment to reverse the damaged liver tissue. However, treatment of the underlying cause of cirrhosis may prevent it from progressing. As most cases of cirrhosis is caused by severe alcoholic drinking, stopping drinking may prevent further progression of liver scarring. Eating a nutritious diet may also be recommended by the doctor. Liver transplantation may also be needed when complications of cirrhosis cannot be controlled or the liver totally fails to function.
Cirrhosis. National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse (NDDIC). http://digestive.niddk.nih.gov/ddiseases/pubs/cirrhosis/index.htm (Accessed on November 1, 2009)
Liver Cancer. Digestive System Disorders (DSD). http://www.dsdisorders.com/2009/10/liver-cancer.html (Accessed on November 1, 2009)
Miniño AM, Heron MP, Murphy SL, Kochanek KD. Deaths: Final data for 2004. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Web site. http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nvsr/nvsr55/nvsr55_19.pdf. Updated October 10, 2007. (Accessed November 1, 2009)