Cirrhosis is an advanced stage of scarring or fibrosis of the liver and is usually caused if the liver is already damaged due to an existing condition such as hepatitis or alcoholism.
The damage that cirrhosis may cause to the liver is very extensive and irreversible. However with the right treatment and medication, we can curb further damage.
Symptoms of cirrhosis are often not prominent and are very dependent on the extent to which the liver is damaged. The most noticeable symptoms, however, include the following:
- Itchy skin
- Easily susceptible to bruises and bleeding
- Yellow discolouration or jaundice
- Fluid accumulation in the abdomen
- Weight loss
- Swollen legs
- Loss of appetite
- Spider-like blood vessels on the skin
There are a number of factors that may cause cirrhosis of the liver. These may include:
- Cystic fibrosis
- Iron build-up in the body
- Wilson's disease
- Autoimmune hepatitis
- Genetic digestive disorder
- Poorly formed bile ducts
- Excessive alcohol consumption
- Hepatitis B and C
- Fat accumulating in the liver
The first stage of cirrhosis is usually detected by simple blood tests. If the doctor suspects that you in fact have cirrhosis, he may recommend tests for liver functioning, kidney functioning, hepatitis B and hepatitis C and clotting.
Other tests that may be advised are:
- CT scan
- Radioisotope liver/spleen scan
- Variceal bleeding. This happens due to portal hypertension, where there is increased pressure within the portal vein (the blood vessel connecting digestive organs to the liver). These varices bleed easily, causing severe bleeding and fluid in the abdomen called ascites.
- Confused thinking and other mental changes (hepatic encephalopathy). Toxins usually get detoxified by the liver, but once cirrhosis occurs, the liver cannot detoxify as well. So they get into the bloodstream and can cause confusion, changes in behavior, and even coma.
Depending on the extent of damage caused by cirrhosis, you can either get better by merely making a few lifestyle adjustments or through medication or both.
Treatment through lifestyle adjustments
People who have previously abused alcohol excessively are very likely to have a serious case of cirrhosis. In this case, one should abstain for alcohol completely. One can also seek medical advice on how to rehabilitate from such an addiction.
People who suffer from non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, can improve if they lose weight and control their blood sugar levels. If a person has hepatitis, steroids or antiviral drugs are given to reduce liver cell injury.
Treatment through medication
Medications may be given to control the symptoms of cirrhosis. Diuretics are used to remove excess fluid and to prevent edema from recurring. Altered mental function is treated by diet and medicines. Laxatives such as lactulose help absorb toxins and hasten elimination from the intestines.
Liver transplantation may be needed in some cases.