What Is Cirrhosis of the Liver?

What Is the Liver?

The liver is the body’s largest organ by far and it is located in the upper part of the abdomen. The rib cage provides protection to this vital organ that serves many critical functions.

What is Cirrhosis of the Liver?

Cirrhosis is the medical term used to describe the scarring or hardening of the arteries. This hardening results in healthy tissue being destroyed which leaves scar tissue behind which reduces the blood flow through the lungs.

Cirrhosis is a critical disorder that stops the liver from carrying out bodily functions such as infection control, clotting of blood and stops the transferring of bile into the small intestine.

What Causes Cirrhosis of the Liver?

There are a few causes of cirrhosis of the liver. Excessive alcohol drinking is the leading cause of cirrhosis of the liver and most people link this disease to alcoholism. Cirrhosis might also be caused by:

  • Chronic Viral Hepatitis – mainly Hepatitis B or C.
  • Autoimmune chronic active hepatitis
  • Fatty liver disease – not related to alcohol abuse
  • The rare primary biliary cirrhosis and other ailments which cause the bile ducts to be blocked.
  • Wilson’s disease – a rare disorder that is inherited.
  • Extensive use of some drugs

Alcohol and Cirrhosis of the Liver

Most people who drink excessively might suffer from some type of liver damage but it doesn’t always result in cirrhosis. Once the liver has been damaged by excessive alcohol consumption, the liver cells are susceptible to even tiny amounts of alcohol and alcohol consumption must stop immediately.

Drinking alcohol in moderation can greatly reduce the chances of getting liver disease due to alcohol. Check out our alcohol info page to see what reasonable limits are and exactly what a unit of alcohol means.

How Do I Know If I Have Cirrhosis of the Liver?

Similar to most diseases, liver disease doesn’t show any symptoms in the early stages or they can be vague if they do appear. The majority of people become aware of cirrhosis after a physical examination or from a lab test after experiencing an illness.

When the disease advances and the liver is unable to carry out its functions, you might begin to experience the following symptoms:

  • Decrease in appetite
  • Fatigue and also low energy
  • Weight Reduction
  • Jaundice
  • Itching
  • Queasiness and illness
  • Quick bruising and nosebleeds
  • Swelling of breasts in males – this is because of an accumulation of female hormones which the liver would usually eliminate

More serious symptoms might take place in the later stages of the disease such as:

  • Enlargement of the stomach – because of an accumulation of fluid. This might result in a significant rise in weight.
  • Throwing up of blood
  • Darkish, black coloured bowel movements
  • Fever and shivering episodes
  • Bouts of puzzlement

You should be aware of the above symptoms especially if you were recently diagnosed with having cirrhosis.

How Is Cirrhosis of the Liver Diagnosed?

Cirrhosis of the liver is usually diagnosed by a physical examination by your physician where they might feel your liver for abnormalities. They might also use a urine test to see if the level s of bilirubin and urobilinogen have increased which could indicate liver damage or a sign of liver disease like hepatitis or cirrhosis. Should these levels be increased or of the liver feel bigger or more firm than it should, you doctor might order a Liver Function Test (LFT) for a more accurate result. They will be looking for the following:

If these levels are raised and/or the liver feels larger or harder than it should then your doctor may recommend a LFT (Liver Function Test) for more detailed results and looks at the following:

  • Enzymes which help to process proteins and could be elevated if your liver is swollen or damaged specifically – Aspartate Aminotransferase (AST) and Alanine Aminotransferase (ALT)
  • Bilirubin – A chemical in bile, which cannot be processed by a damaged liver resulting in yellow looking skin or eyes (jaundice). If there is a rise in the bilirubin levels, it could be an indication of liver disease.
  • Alkaline Phosphatase (ALP) and Gamma-Glut amyl Transferase- these are enzymes and could be elevated if there is an obstruction in your liver or bile duct.
  • Albumin – This is a protein and might be reduced in certain types of cancer or if you might have been consuming little food and are malnourished.

Your doctor might also order x-rays, CT or MRI scan, ultrasound or even a biopsy.

A home liver function test is available on this website. For more information on the test click here.

How Is Cirrhosis of the Liver Treated?

Once there is damage of the liver due to cirrhosis, there is no reversing it. The aim of the treatment then becomes minimising the disease’s complications while slowing down or stopping its progress.

If the cause of the liver damage is eliminated, the progression of the disease can be stopped. For instance, if alcohol was the culprit and you stop drinking, this could slow down the disease. You should also be aware of the alcohol contents in foods.

In cases where cirrhosis is caused by hepatitis, medication like interferon might be given to treat the hepatitis.

If the liver is too damaged due to prolonged cirrhosis, it might stop working altogether. The only solution in such cases is a liver transplant.

This post has been updated since its original publication in 2015.

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