A condition known as cirrhosis occurs when the liver develops scar tissue as a result of various diseases and factors. As a result of scar tissue replacing healthy liver tissue, the liver cannot function normally. Complications of cirrhosis include bleeding, infection, liver cancer, and liver failure.
Cirrhosis is most commonly caused by:
Excessive alcohol consumption can damage liver cells and cause inflammation and scarring.
Hepatitis B, C, and D are viral infections that can cause chronic inflammation and scarring in the liver.
Fat accumulates in the liver due to obesity, diabetes, high cholesterol, or other metabolic disorders.
Among the less common causes of cirrhosis are genetic disorders (hemochromatosis, Wilson's disease, alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency), autoimmune diseases (autoimmune hepatitis, primary biliary cholangitis, primary sclerosing cholangitis), bile duct disorders (such as biliary atresia, cystic fibrosis), drug toxicity (such as acetaminophen overdose), and parasitic infections (such as schistosomiasis).
In the early stages of cirrhosis, there may be no symptoms, but as the damage to the liver progresses, some symptoms may appear, such as:
Loss of appetite
Yellowing of the skin and eyes (jaundice)
Swelling of the legs, feet, or abdomen (edema or ascites)
Bleeding or bruising easily
Spider-like blood vessels on the skin
Redness of the palms
Changes in menstrual cycle or sexual function
Confusion, drowsiness, or slurred speech (hepatic encephalopathy)
An individual with cirrhosis may be diagnosed through a combination of medical history, physical examination, blood tests, imaging tests, and biopsy.
A blood test can identify signs of liver damage or dysfunction, such as high levels of bilirubin or certain enzymes, low levels of albumin or clotting factors, antibodies against hepatitis viruses, or iron or copper overload.
Ultrasound, CT scan, MRI scan, or elastography are some imaging tests that can detect abnormalities or complications in the liver.
To determine the extent and cause of liver damage, a biopsy involves taking a small sample of liver tissue and examining it under a microscope.
Cirrhosis treatment depends on the cause and severity of the condition. It aims to slow down the progression of liver damage, prevent or treat complications, and improve quality of life.
It is possible to treat the underlying causes by stopping alcohol use, taking antiviral medications for hepatitis, losing weight, taking iron or copper chelating agents, taking immunosuppressive drugs for autoimmune diseases, or taking antibiotics for infections.
The treatment may involve medications to reduce itching, swelling, bleeding, or infection, endoscopic procedures to stop bleeding from varicose veins, paracentesis to drain fluid from the abdomen, shunt surgery to reduce portal hypertension, encephalopathy therapy to improve mental function, or regular liver cancer screenings.
The liver transplant procedure involves replacing a damaged liver with a healthy liver from a donor when other treatments fail or when cirrhosis has advanced to a very severe level.
Cirrhosis can be prevented by avoiding or treating the factors that damage the liver. These include:
Limiting alcohol intake
Getting vaccinated against hepatitis A and B
Practicing safe sex and avoiding sharing needles
Eating a balanced diet and maintaining a healthy weight
Avoiding unnecessary use of medications or supplements that can harm the liver
Having regular check-ups and blood tests to monitor liver health