Cirrhosis – Causes, Symptoms, Treatment and Prevention

An abnormal liver condition characterized by irreversible scarring of the liver. Alcohol and viral hepatitis B and C are among the many causes of cirrhosis. Cirrhosis can cause yellowing of the skin (jaundice), itching, and fatigue. Diagnosis of cirrhosis can be suggested by physical examination and blood tests, and can be confirmed by liver biopsy in some patients. Complications of cirrhosis include mental confusion, coma, fluid accumulation (ascites), internal bleeding, and kidney failure. Treatment of cirrhosis is designed to limit any further damage to the liver as well as complications.

The liver, the largest organ in the body, is essential in keeping the body functioning properly. It removes or neutralizes poisons from the blood, produces immune agents to control infection, and removes germs and bacteria from the blood. It makes proteins that regulate blood clotting and produces bile to help absorb fats and fat-soluble vitamins. You cannot live without a functioning liver.

Causes

Cirrhosis is caused by chronic liver disease. Common causes of chronic liver disease in the US include hepatitis C infection and long-term alcohol abuse (see Alcoholic liver disease). Other causes of cirrhosis include hepatitis B, medications, autoimmune inflammation of the liver, disorders of the drainage system of the liver (the biliary system), and metabolic disorders of iron and copper (hemochromatosis and Wilson’s disease).

Symptoms

The early stages of Cirrhosis are often asymptomatic in sufferers. As Cirrhosis progresses, many symptoms may be experienced. Among them are nausea and loss of appetite, fatigue and weakness, weight loss, and spider like blood vessels.

Treatment

Medication that causes scarring can be injected directly into veins to control bleeding from varices in the stomach or esophagus. Varices may require a special surgical procedure called balloon tamponade ligation to stop the bleeding. Surgery may be required to repair diseaserelated throat damage. It is sometimes necessary to remove diseased portions of the spleen and other organs.

Regardless of the cause, anyone with cirrhosis should abstain from alcohol and use caution in taking medications that can make liver disease worse, including over-the-counter acetaminophen (Tylenol and generic types). You also will be treated for underlying diseases for example, interferon and other medications for viral hepatitis, corticosteroids or other immunosuppressant medications for autoimmune hepatitis, and phlebotomy, which is the periodic removal of a pint of blood to reduce iron levels in hemochromatosis.

A low fat diet, rich in fresh fruit & vegetables, is also usually advised for overall optimum health, and the herb milk thistle may be prescribed for its natural liver healing properties. Used in Europe for centuries, today scientific studies have proven the effectiveness of milk thistle in liver disease, but consult with your doctor to ensure it won’t interact with other prescribed medications.

Prevention

Don’t drink heavily. If you find that your drinking is getting out of hand, seek professional help. Avoiding intravenous drug use (or only using clean needles and never sharing other equipment) will reduce the risk of hepatitis B and C. Some research indicates that hepatitis C may be spread via shared use of straws or items used to snort cocaine or other drugs. Avoid snorting drugs or sharing any related paraphernalia. If you have a problem with illicit drugs, seek help.