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Liver Cirrhosis

What is Liver Cirrhosis?

Liver cirrhosis is a term that refers to a group of chronic diseases of the liver in which normal liver cells are damaged and replaced by scar tissue.

When scar tissue develops in the liver, the amount of normal liver tissue decreases and the liver is unable to function normally.

Liver cirrhosis is a serious condition. The liver is a very important part of the digestive system.

What Are the Symptoms of Liver Cirrhosis?

Liver cirrhosis does not develop overnight. It takes several years to develop. While liver cirrhosis is developing, there are usually no symptoms.

Symptoms usually appear when liver cirrhosis is fully developed. The symptoms will depend on how severe liver cirrhosis is.

The most common symptoms of liver cirrhosis are:

  • Weakness
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Dark skin color
  • Intense itching
  • Confusion
  • Nose bleeds
  • Breast enlargement in men
  • Fluid retention in the legs and abdomen
    • Fluid retention occurs because the liver decreases its production of a protein called albumin. When the blood level of albumin decreases, fluid retention occurs.
  • Jaundice
    • When the liver's production of bile is compromised, bile can back up into the blood, causing the skin and eyes to turn yellow and the urine to become dark.
  • Gallstones
    • The abnormal production of bile causes gallstones to develop.
  • Blood Clotting Difficulties
    • The liver makes certain proteins that help the blood clot. When the proteins aren't made properly, the blood doesn't clot properly
  • Esophageal Vein Bleeding
    • Esophageal vein bleeding occurs in advanced cirrhosis.

What Causes Liver Cirrhosis?

There are many causes of liver cirrhosis. The most common causes are:

  • Alcoholic liver disease. To many people, cirrhosis of the liver is synonymous with chronic alcoholism, but in fact, alcoholism is only one of the causes. Alcoholic cirrhosis usually develops after more than a decade of heavy drinking. The amount of alcohol that can injure the liver varies greatly from person to person. In women, as few as two to three drinks per day have been linked with cirrhosis and in men, as few as three to four drinks per day. Alcohol seems to injure the liver by blocking the normal metabolism of protein, fats, and carbohydrates.
  • Chronic hepatitis C. The hepatitis C virus ranks with alcohol as a major cause of chronic liver disease and cirrhosis in the United States. Infection with this virus causes inflammation of and low grade damage to the liver that over several decades can lead to cirrhosis.
  • Chronic hepatitis B and D. The hepatitis B virus is probably the most common cause of cirrhosis worldwide, but it is less common in the United States and the Western world. Hepatitis B, like hepatitis C, causes liver inflammation and injury that over several decades can lead to cirrhosis. Hepatitis D is another virus that infects the liver, but only in people who already have hepatitis B.
  • Autoimmune hepatitis. This disease appears to be caused by the immune system attacking the liver and causing inflammation, damage, and eventually scarring and cirrhosis.
  • Inherited diseases. Alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency, hemochromatosis, Wilson's disease, galactosemia, and glycogen storage diseases are among the inherited diseases that interfere with the way the liver produces, processes, and stores enzymes, proteins, metals, and other substances the body needs to function properly.
  • Nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH). In NASH, fat builds up in the liver and eventually causes scar tissue. This type of hepatitis appears to be associated with diabetes, protein malnutrition, obesity, coronary artery disease, and treatment with corticosteroid medications.
  • Blocked bile ducts. When the ducts that carry bile out of the liver are blocked, bile backs up and damages liver tissue. In babies, blocked bile ducts are most commonly caused by biliary atresia, a disease in which the bile ducts are absent or injured. In adults, the most common cause is primary biliary cirrhosis, a disease in which the ducts become inflamed, blocked, and scarred. Secondary biliary cirrhosis can happen after gallbladder surgery if the ducts are inadvertently tied off or injured.
  • Drugs, toxins, and infections. Severe reactions to prescription drugs, prolonged exposure to environmental toxins, the parasitic infection schistosomiasis, and repeated bouts of heart failure with liver congestion can all lead to cirrhosis.
  • Abnormal storage of copper
  • Cystic fibrosis

Can Liver Cirrhosis be Treated?

Yes. Liver cirrhosis treatment is focused on the cause. In extreme cases, a liver transplant may be needed.

Complications of Liver Cirrhosis

If complications are present, the most common complications are:

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