What is Cirrhosis of the Liver?
Cirrhosis of the liver occurs when liver damage leads to accumulated scar tissue. This scar tissue hardens the liver and prevents it from functioning properly. Cirrhosis of the liver develops over a relatively long period of time and is considered a chronic condition. Mild cirrhosis can be corrected with lifestyle and dietary changes. Advanced cirrhosis can become impossible to reverse and the liver will eventually stop functioning.
The liver is a large organ, weighing in at approximately 3 pounds, which sits on the right side of the upper abdomen and is protected by the rib cage. It is a chemical factory, producing chemicals responsible for digestion, metabolizing drugs and detoxifying chemicals in the body, and filtering blood after digestion prior to re-entering the blood stream. The liver also produces bile, which is secreted back into the intestines, and proteins which are necessary for blood to clot.
Taking the above into consideration, it isn’t hard to imagine why the liver is so vital to human existence. Without a liver, or with a liver that is too damaged to do its job, the body becomes toxic and is literally poisoned to death.
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What Causes Cirrhosis of the Liver?
The liver is an incredibly hearty organ. It can repair itself, but each time it is damaged and healed, scar tissue is formed. The most common causes of cirrhosis are:
- Drug addiction
- Hepatitis B
- Hepatitis C
- Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease
- Cystic Fibrosis
- Bile duct destruction
- Iron buildup (hemochromatosis)
- Hardening and/or scarring of the bile ducts
- Autoimmune diseases – which can attack the liver and cause harm
- Schistosomiasis (a parasite that is found in developing countries)
- Inability to process milk sugars (Galactosemia)
- Copper build-up in the liver (Wilson’s disease)
What Are the Symptoms of Cirrhosis?
Unfortunately, symptoms do not appear until there has been severe liver damage. This is why an annual physical exam is crucial for individuals at risk for cirrhosis. Symptoms include:
- Unusual weight loss
- Easy to bleed
- Easy to bruise
- Swelling in the legs
- Fluid accumulation in the abdomen/abdominal swelling
- Loss of appetite
What Is the Treatment for Cirrhosis?
The first step will be to address the root of the problem. If the cirrhosis is linked to alcoholism, the patient must undergo rehabilitation and cease alcohol consumption for the rest of his/her life. If the cause is related to Hepatitis B or C, the patient can be put on medication to control the disease’s damage to liver cells.
In addition, doctors will treat any accompanying complications such as:
- Accumulation of abdominal fluid/leg swelling
- High levels of toxins in the blood
- Frequent infections
- Internal hemorrhaging, due to the compromised circulatory system
- Increased risk for liver cancer
Is Cirrhosis of the Liver Curable?
If the cirrhosis is considered to be in the mild stages, and the liver is still functioning adequately, immediate treatment and lifestyle changes can prevent it from progressing. However, if the liver is no longer functioning, a liver transplant is required.